Machine Gun Preacher
Sam Childers is a very, very bad man. This fact is made very apparent right from the start of Machine Gun Preacher. Childers, played by Gerard Butler, is a biker who is let out of prison for an unknown offense and almost immediately begins indulging in alcohol, hard drugs, and violent crimes. He is unfazed by criminal punishment, unrepentant for the crimes he has and will commit, and the last person that one would expect to spend decades of his life crusading to better the lives of the children of Southern Sudan.
The viewers are ushered into this film in brutish fashion. Marc Forster has no reservations about showing the absolute worst in human nature through juxtaposing the murder and pillage committed by Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and Childers’ debauchery and criminal behavior in the US.
Gerard Butler does an excellent job of channeling the regret and pain that his character feels and gives a very solid overall performance. Michelle Monaghan, as Childers’ wife Lynn, does well as the strong constant to Sam’s erratically violent tendencies. Michael Shannon is severely underutilized as Childers’ friend and partner in crime Donnie.
Despite strong performances from the leads, it is hard to appreciate them fully at times because the narrative is rushed in many areas in the film, especially in the beginning. This condensed narrative structure does not allow the viewer to make connections with the characters. Childers’ “finding God” and the subsequent positive changes that are made in his life are displayed in an almost montage like manner. This little time spent on sincerely developing the character’s religious identity on camera undermines the rest of the film because Childers’ sincerity in his beliefs and ultimately the actions he takes based on those beliefs come across as insincere, and so does this film in many instances.