There are some stories that are just begging to be adapted into movies, and some of these examples come from real life events. One of these stories is the life and work of a man named Sam Childers, who gave up his life of crime after finding religion and begin working and defending children in the Sudan whose lives have been uprooted by civil war. That sounds like a movie just begging to be made. Well, it was made, titled Machine Gun Preacher, and released back in 2011. With source material like that, nothing could have went wrong. Unfortunately, a lot did go wrong, and while this is a competent movie in some regards, there’s so much tedious and annoying aspects that bring it way down.
After being released from prison, Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) quickly falls back into a life of drug use and crime. It isn’t until he almost kills a man that he asks his wife, Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), to help him. This prompts her to expose Sam to religion and the redemption that is has to offer. After being accepted by the faith, Sam learns of the tragedies happening in Sudan and quickly makes the trip to Africa to help in any way he can. After seeing the horrors first hand, Sam, with the help of his newfound friend Deng (Souléymane Sy Savané), opens up an orphanage to help all of the children affected by the violence in the region. This is an almost impossible task with the LRA constantly attacking from all ends, which forces Sam to take up arms and fight the LRA with his own brand of justice.
With real life source material, where could this movie possibly go wrong. This sounded like an amazing story of heroism that was being done by a seemingly normal guy with a seedy past. There are some positive things in this movie that are memorable. For one thing, it shines a glaring light on events happening in Africa that, at the time the movie was getting made, was not getting nearly enough attention. It also has some very well done scenes. One scene in particular shows Sam Childers arriving in a village that has been completely destroyed with all the people murdered. This is a chilling scene that works very well, and it shows some really impressive acting chops from Gerard Butler. Unfortunately, these scenes are really few and far between, with everything else being pretty derivative and, towards the end, angering.
While the story of this movie is incredible, and the real life Childers is certainly one of a kind, I have to look at the movie as a movie and not as a document of real life. That being said, there have been movies like this made before, but made better. The idea of people from a more well to do area being dropped in another area that is a complete war zone only to have them change by the experience has been explored in multiple movies. One of my favorite examples of this is the highly underrated film, The Bang Bang Club. This is the same kind of story arc with Machine Gun Preacher, and while it does have its own unique elements, a lot of the drama felt like it was ripped from a text book, and devoid of any actual emotion. By the end of the movie, and throughout all the ups and downs, I never really felt like I connected at all with Childers, the people who worked with him, or his family and friends. The only character I felt any kind of emotion towards was Michael Shannon’s character. That may be because I’m a huge fan of Shannon, but I also think his character was used just right and written very well.
Finally, I have to talk about the character of Sam Childers himself. Now, I’m not going to claim I know anything about the guy, other than what I saw in the movie. I didn’t do any research on him, so I can only speak about how he’s portrayed in the film. At first, I was into his character and behind his mission 100%. As the movie went on however, he just got more and more annoying and aggravating. The decisions he was making in Africa mixed with the way he was treating his family just got to be way too much. It’s pretty typical in a movie like this for a character to reach low points, but these low points happened at a really weird time and made the rest of the movie almost unwatchable, just because I hated how over the top they made Childers’ personality change. It’s hard to enjoy a movie when the main character becomes so unlikable.
Machine Gun Preacher had the potential to be a lot better than it actually was. The story of Sam Childers giving up his life of crime to go to Africa and save orphans from the LRA sounds ripe to the taking. Unfortunately, the movie became too clichéd too fast, the drama failed to hit as hard as it should have, and the character of Childers became very unlikable towards the end of the movie. I really wanted to like this movie, but it just really didn’t do it for me.