It’s not easy for a guy to change his life around — especially when he’s an angry hillbilly biker who’s hopelessly addicted to drugs and alcohol. Nevertheless, it seems at least one person in the history of white trash-dom claims to have turned his life around, and his name is Sam Childers — the inspiration for this highly fictionalized biopic, wherein the always bland Gerard Butler can be seen doing what he does best: yelling, screaming, frowning, and hamming it up. Big time. In addition to starring as a much handsomer version of Sam Childers, Butler also sank a good chunk of his own money into this box office failure, wherein he is guided by director Marc Forster — the very man who helmed the awful Quantum of Solace.
Fortunately, Mr. Forster seems to have learned a thing or two since directing that aforementioned messy James Bond flick. For instance: he doesn’t resort to the overuse of the dreaded shakycam technique here, nor does he cutaway from his action scenes within a few milliseconds. Instead, Forster does the opposite — employing more traditional (steady) cinematography, and focusing on the scenes of fighting for as long as he possibly can. Sadly, Machine Gun Preacher — a moniker that sounds like the B-Side of a certain Foreigner song — has this all-hype feel to it, no matter how powerful of a chord it may strike with you.
Released from stir for reasons unbeknownst to us for the entire film, Childers (Butler) returns once more to his old life — stealing drugs at gunpoint and stabbing hitchhikers to near-death in the backseat of his car. One day, his actions even start to make him sick, to wit he follows suit with his wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), and finds God. Or maybe God finds him, as he is soon flying over to Sudan to build an orphanage for the many victims of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). But he doesn’t stop there: Sam also picks up a machine gun and starts to fight alongside with the brave freedom fighters of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Yup, he’s a Machine Gun Preacher, folks.
Sure, there are countless claims from near and far that allege the real Childers is a total fraud. One such assertion purportedly came from the SPLA itself, and reported they have never even met Childers. As to what the truth is isn’t under fire here, but it does lead one to wonder about the validity of the story — particularly as we witness the seeming indestructibleness of Childers’ onscreen incarnation. Jason Keller’s script does not shed very much light on that what’s or what-isn’ts here, and 98% of his supporting characters all seem to follow Sam blindly and never say so much as “Wait, are you for real, dude?”
From an aesthetic perspective, however, Machine Gun Preacher comes off as an OK action-drama, replete with numerous moments lifted from just about every action and humanitarian movie you can think of. Its two-hour-nine-minute runtime taxes viewers, especially as the movie comes to a conclusion without any actual wrapping up whatsoever. The basic message is one we should all take heed to: the horrors going on in Sudan (as well as the rest of the world) won’t change if we do not stand up and take matters in hand, as opposed to making an online contribution or post about or towards something that irks us.
I’ve seen much worse, but I have also seen a lot better.
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment brings us this so-so movie with a decidedly stellar video transfer, and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that brings the many bullets-a-fired within this film home to you. Ironically enough, the special features included with this Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo release do not focus on the real Sam Childers himself, instead concentrating on a conversation with German-born director Forster and the music heard within the film, summed up in another chat with the folks behind the Asche & Spencer music score, and a music video for Chris Cornell’s decidedly uninspiring closing theme, “The Keeper.” Trailers and the main feature and several other Fox releases round out this Gerard Butler hamfest.