Review: 'Maching Gun Preacher' Aims, Shoots & HITS!
I respect this film. I respect this film so much; I will not go on one of my idiotic rants or raves like I normally do. It’s not to say I don’t respect other films I’ve watched and/or reviewed, I do… It’s just from the start, Director, Marc Forster engages the audience within a realm I imagine most of us are familiar with, yet, not too in-tune when it comes to the realities which are going on, as we speak, on the other side of this big blue marble we share. The opening scene commands a large degree of respect, and what ties in after, takes us on such a deep, depressing, ride of realities… After watching this film, so much resonated within me, it felt surreal to know and feel I had zero smart-ass remarks whatsoever… And even more considering its status of being a [True Story] and having read up a lot on the militant individuals which serve as the film’s antagonists – The LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army).
When ex-biker/gang member Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) makes the life-changing decision to go to East Africa to help restore homes destroyed by civil war, he is outraged by the incomprehensible horrors faced by the region’s innocent and vulnerable—especially children. Doing aside the warnings of more experienced aide workers, Sam breaks ground for an orphanage where it’s most needed—in the middle of land controlled by the brutal LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army), an extreme renegade militia that forces children to become soldiers before they even reach their teen years. But for Sam, it’s not enough to shelter the LRA’s shattered victims. Determined to save as many as possible, he leads armed missions deep into enemy territory to retrieve kidnapped children, restoring peace to their lives, and eventually his own.
Off the bat, this film will generate two feelings: Love it or Hate it! At the core of the film’s structure, we see parallel lives of what some may consider a downward spiral. Poor people being shot and killed on end, while in the other, the same’s going on, but more on a level where it’s pretty much molded by a desire of selfishness and the ever-so-famous “easy way out.”
The film’s first 45 minutes has so much going on, I can tell you if you “miss a beat,” you might miss out on a strange, yet, interesting arc within Gerard’s character when morphing from thug to a leading preaching Christian. It’s always that one extreme moment in one’s life which allows us to open our eyes, and for Butler’s character it comes when trusting his sketchy judgment back-fires on him and winds up on the other side providing an unclear result regarding where he’s going in life and what will the outcome be.
The film presents a thread of obstacles at the hands of life’s curve-balls and to much avail, it’s not just Butler’s character which carries the film; a lot of what transpires behind “Sam’s push” is laid out by his wife played by Michelle Monaghan and best friend played by Michael Shannon. Supporting the film’s structure, these important players subconsciously help manipulate a lot of what stems from within Butler’s character when having been opened up the horrors of East Africa. Each linked to levels of support during his absence, a sub-plot of sorts starts to emerge during his trips back and forth and comparing lifestyles…which in many cases Sam felt to have been a bit more extreme where his heart laid strongest.
Not pulling any punches, Forster gets as real and gritty as he can get. A bit long in a runtime of a little over 2 hours, I can see why it had to be in such lengthy form. Much of what goes on between Sam’s life as he comes full circle (I.e. His existence, religion, making peace within himself and actions etc), couldn’t have worked if parts had been chopped up. It’s not like the film didn’t go through any edits, but the extreme tone of an individual’s life and changing at will was really powerful and to date, I think Butler’s best role ever! The intensity in this man’s eyes is felt as it pierced through the screen.
At first glance it seems like it’s a film jumping all over the place, but my interpretation of it was basically the speed-ball lifestyle lived by Sam, however, coming to a much more relevant pace once embarking on his mission—which first seems to be God-like, but then turns personal. Every word written in this script is generated for purpose of emphases. Whether family, or friends, or preaching at church or stomping the Sudanese desert, the Sam is always presenting himself on an edge of extreme.
Once watched, I’m sure many will argue about extremes taken by Sam, however, whether they’re right or wrong cannot be justified by anyone other than himself and perhaps his loved ones.
Singing the film’s praises, something I feel will “hurt” the film’s credibility among moviegoers will be the divide it’ll cause. With a title like MACHINE GUN PREACHER, your average moviegoer (one not typically into art films or one with a humanitarian mind-set) will enter this film thinking they’re going to watch LAW ABIDING CITIZEN or even something within the realm of 300. On the flip side: Someone on a much more subtle approach towards a film-based mindset of building emotion over art will be turned off due to a title so abrasive and straight-forward. Either way, perhaps there’s a degree of marketing brilliance, but I can almost bet this will be the typical “loved it” or “hated it” film.
With that said, I really enjoyed this film a lot and highly recommend it. The atrocities in this piece are as real as they get, and to date continue in that part of the world. The real Sam Childers is still there doing what he feels is right, and due to this film I can bet the awareness will gain some more leverage among those overlooking this situation, and in form of the film industry…a definite nod from either end—Golden Globe or Academy Award.
GRADE: A / GENRE: Action/Adventure, Drama and Biopic / RATED: R / RUN TIME: 2 Hrs. 5 Min.
STARRING: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon, Madeline Carroll, Kathy Baker
DIRECTOR: Marc Forster
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