• Machine Gun Preacher

    ReleIased By: 20th Century Fox
    Released On: 06/05/2012
    Director: Marc Forster
    Cast: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon
    Year: 2012
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    The Film:

    With a credit for one of 2008’s biggest hits, which also happened to be an installment in an extremely popular film franchise, one would expect Quantum of Solace director Marc Forster to shoot for the moon and take on an even bigger project. But in an effort to ground himself in reality, Forster instead chose to direct a script that had more of a personal impact on him; the story of Sam Childers, also known as the Machine Gun Preacher.

    Despite the B-Movie title, Machine Gun Preacher is based on Childers’ inspirational autobiography, “Another Man’s War”, which tells the story of his life from drug-addicted ex-con to born-again Christian. Reluctantly turning to church and god, he is told by his pastor that he will visit Africa and help the starving, homeless children of war-torn Uganda. After arriving in Africa, Childers and his wife built the Angels of East Africa orphanage, home to numerous children whose families were killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by the notorious Joseph Kony.

    Without having read the book, it’s hard to determine exactly what artistic license screenwriter Jason Keller has taken with Sam’s story, but it’s safe to say that it’s a fair bit. With Gerard Butler in the lead role of Childers, Machine Gun Preacher seems far too contrived and predictable to be a real-life story, dripping with apparent Hollywood flair. Fresh out of jail, Childers is shocked to find that his wife Lynne (Michelle Monaghan) has quit her job at the local gentleman’s establishment, instead opting for honest work and Sunday attendance in the house of the Lord. Disgusted with her disregard for appreciative customer tips which support the existence of the two of them and their daughter in a trashy trailer park, he decides to celebrate his freedom by shooting dope and going on a tear with his biker buddy Donny (Michael Shannon), which involves drinking lots of beer, hootin’ and hollerin’, and holding up drug dealers with shotguns. During a hitchhiking-gone-wrong after the party, Sam believes he has killed a Neil Young-looking drifter, which causes him to take stock of his life; and this is where the series of 10-minute catalysts begin. After the vagrant incident, Sam joins his wife’s church and finds god in 10 minutes, after which he is convinced to go to Africa, which he does…for 10 minutes. He helps to build an orphanage and meets some of the friendly soldiers, who show him the nasty side of Sudan and the Lord’s Resistance Army, for about 10 minutes. Returning home, he raises more funds and talks with his family about going back to Africa for about 10 minutes, then returns and witnesses children being slaughtered...for, well, you guessed it. Bad things happen at home, he has a change of heart and relapses into his old self for about 10 minutes, then is inspired to carry on his work and resolves everything with his family…in about 10 minutes. It seems like Keller had some ideas that he wanted to jazz up the script with, put them all in order, and then spaced them out equally in the film, while loading each segment with as many predictable dramatic moments as possible. Unfortunately, the formula becomes very obvious within the first half hour of the film, and actually distracts from the film as the viewer guesses the outcome of each situation whilst rolling their eyes. Or maybe that’s just me. Sadly, it takes away from the story of Childers himself, who is more than likely a very remarkable man.

    Still, while the script may be amateur, and while the lead actor may seem to be dialling the role in from whatever headspace he’s in, overacting to a point just short of Nicholas Cage proportions, there are a few things to like about Machine Gun Preacher, and those things are the supporting actors. Despite her very limited screen time, Michelle Monaghan is effectively sympathetic as Sam’s wife Lynn, stealing every scene that she’s in. The real star of the show, however, is Michael Shannon, familiar to many as a former Federal Agent on a troubled path in Boardwalk Empire; to see him in the role of a drug-addicted outlaw is awe-inspiring, and his range of emotions is startling. Unfortunately, he suffers from the same lack of screen time as Monaghan, a fairly good indication that Forster isn’t too resourceful with his talent.

    The major failing of Machine Gun Preacher, however, in its attempt to dress up the story is that it glosses over the mission of the real Childers, mucking up the plight of the homeless children with cliché and poorly-done action sequences. With the exception of the onscreen blurbs about Kony and the situation in Uganda, the film buries the politics in sensationalist dreck, so obviously going for “touching” moments that it comes off as scripted as an infomercial. Running over two hours in length, I was quite certain that spending that time reading Childers’ book would’ve been a more worthwhile investment.


    20th Century Fox brings Machine Gun Preacher to blu-ray with a 2.40:1 transfer that looks pretty fantastic. The scenes around Childers hometown at the beginning are dark and gritty, and the detail in the blu-ray brings that out splendidly, while the scenes filmed in Africa maintain a clarity and good balance considering the rather bland palette. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio track sounds decent as well, with coherent dialogue centered in the front channel and moderate use of the surrounds.

    First up in the extra features section is Machine Gun Preacher: A Discussion with Marc Forster (18:36), which is basically a one-camera interview piece with Marc Forster talking about the film. He discusses choosing the script over so many others after the success of Quantum of Solace, the casting of the characters, and his meeting with Sam Childers. He also discusses more in depth the plight of the children in Uganda with more depth and emotion that what is found in the film.

    Next up is Making the Music for Machine Gun Preacher(14:00), which is an interesting piece with the composers and musicians who worked on the film, and how they created music to fit the film, right down to choosing certain instruments for certain passages.

    The Chris Cornell music video for “The Keeper” is also featured, along with a trailer for the film and a few other trailers for Fox titles.

    The Final Word:

    Looking past my normally cynical vision, I can see how Machine Gun Preacher could be enjoyed by somebody not analyzing the film, but anyone with a slightly critical eye will find a whole lot wrong with this less than sincere adaptation.