Machine Gun Preacher review
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
Butler's best performance since 300, according to this humble review...
“If it were your child, and I could get her back… does it matter how I do it?”
This is an abbreviated quote from footage that plays during the credits of Machine Gun Preacher in which the real life Sam Childers addresses the audience and pretty much sums up the entire movie before it.
The latest movie directed by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Monsters Ball) and starring Gerald Butler (300) details the life of a man known predominately by his nickname, the 'Machine Gun Preacher'. Following his journey from North Dakota in the American South, we voyeur his transformation from a drug addicted career-criminal to born again Christian, travelling halfway across the world to Sudan to build an Orphanage supporting war torn civilians there.
Jason Keller, the film's writer, wrote the movie after actually living with Childers and visiting the orphanage that he built, and this comes across vividly on screen, giving the movie a real sense of reality. In interviews, Keller admits that to this day he is very conflicted about Childers' personally - while still in awe of him and his accomplishments - and one of the movie’s strengths is that it truly challenges the viewer with the complex make up of this man. Another quote from the movie, given by Sam as he preaches an sermon, “God doesn’t want Sheep, he wants Wolves” and the movie is clear...Childers is closer to the latter even now.
We enter Childers' life as he returns from a jail sentence to find that his stripper wife has found God. However, after a traumatising event in the middle of a drug fuelled robbery, his anger soon subsides and he to is forced to reconsider his life. So, in an attempt to wash his sins away, Childers begins attending church before eventually becoming baptised.
From here, Childers works hard to build on his progress, and after being saved by what seems like an act of God, is re-energised to begin a successful building business. When a Missionary visits his church he is drawn into the plight of the civilians of rural Sudan, a people torn between roving gangs of violent “freedom fighters”, and decides to go over to help. At first, Childers focuses solely on additional input - aiding current plans via his building expertise - but after witnessing the horrors that engulf Sudan, becomes obsessed and eventually receives what he believes is a vision from god to build the Orphanage. And yet Childers soon slips back into his old forte, using his 'unique' skill sets to defend and recover kidnapped children from the surrounding areas - all of which is an extension of God's will, surely.
Playing such an conflicted anti-hero, journeying from from sinner to God fearing warrior, is an actor’s dream come true and Butler really inhabits the role well. Put simply, this is Butler's most compelling performance since his breakthrough role as 300’s King Leonidas. He never flinches from showing that while this man is trying to do great things he’s still very flawed, bursting at the seems with frustration towards the overwhelming odds he faces; often wanting to give up and turn that anger on the people he loves. Furthermore, I got the distinct feeling that he had replaced one addiction with another, sacrificing his family's wellbeing for the goal he is attempting.
Butler is supported by an equally strong performance from Michelle Monaghan, who plays his wife Lynn Childers. Monaghan does a fantastic job portraying the torment inflicted upon the family, and acts as the catalyst for his conversion, torn between supporting his dream while also keeping the family together. While the remaining cast is given little to do throughout - contained predominantly in the background - Michael Shannon's role as Childers best friend is to be commended, doing the best with what little he's given.
Forster shoots the movie well and avoids the temptation to turn the story into a generic action movie, with the violence shot in a way that conveys the horror of the region rather then glorifying it. The entire film never gives you easy answers and instead leaves you with a haunting picture of the turmoil Sudan still faces and asks you to decide whether the end result really does justify the means.
Can fighting violence with violence ever be justified? And if so, on what scale? The one problem is that it doesn’t devote enough time to what is going on in the head of Childers; I wish we understood the man more as, for me at least, the guy remains an enigma as the credits roll.
Overall I feel that the movie is well worth watching to see an eye opening account of a multi faceted flawed human being and truly does challenge people’s views of how far we’re willing to go to fight the evil that exists in the world we live in.
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