CAST: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michelle Shannon; Madeline Carroll, Kathy Baker, Souleymane Sy Savane, Rhema Marvanne; DIRECTOR: Marc Foster; SCREENWRITER: Jason Keller; PRODUCED BY: Robbie Brenner, Deborah Giarratana, Craig Chapman, Gary Safady; GENRE: Action, Drama, Biography, Crime; DISTRIBUTOR Relativity Media; LOCATION: USA, East Africa; RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes
Technical Assessment: 3.5
Moral Assessment: 3
Cinema rating: For viewers 14 years old and above
The hero is Sam Childers (Gerard Butler), an ex-biker, Pennsylvania tough guy who loved guns and served a prison sentence. Sam goes through a conversion experience after thinking he and a friend (Michael Shannon) had killed a man. His wife, his daughter and his mother have found God and lead him to church and baptism. When he gets his life in order, he is impressed by a preacher visiting from Uganda, and makes the life-changing decision to go to East Africa to help repair homes destroyed by civil war. Here he is outraged by the unspeakable horrors faced by the region’s vulnerable populace, especially the children. Ignoring the warnings of more experienced aide workers, Sam breaks ground for an orphanage where it’s most needed-in the middle of territory controlled by the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a renegade militia that forces youngsters to become soldiers before they even reach their teens. But for Sam, it is not enough to shelter the LRA’s intended 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. His strong-minded wife (Michelle Monaghan), supports him and urges him not to give up though it takes a toll as Childers becomes completely obsessed by his mission--to the point where his daughter accuses him of loving the "little black babies" more than he does her.
Some people may not be able to stand the violence in Machine Gun Preacher. For instance, when the LRA group captures a young boy in a village, they slice his face and put a sledgehammer in his hands as he faces his sobbing mother. They demand that he kill her, and we watch as the sledge starts to fall. Later, the boy confesses to Sam that his captors told him they would kill him and his brother if he didn't kill his mother. LRA soldiers also burn down villages, gunning down families as they flee, screaming.
Machine Gun Preacher confronts viewers with this valuable question: When does a faith-fueled commitment to a just cause become idolatry? When Sam's faith falters and he rejects God and contemplates suicide, the film offers up a sobering reminder of the valleys a valiant man will always face. Sam's heart is reawakened by a conversation with a boy who's suffered unspeakable things; the story ends with him re-engaging with his mission.
The true-to-life Childers is still working in Sudan. Photos of him and his family as well as video footage are shown in the final credits. Critics note that those interested in the machine gun may lose interest in the religious dimension of the Machine Gun Preacher, while those interested in the preacher may be put off by his warrior-like Christianity in fighting for the rights of the oppressed. At the end of the credits, Childers tosses the confronting question: If a member of our family were to be abducted and Childers promised to get them back, would we question or object to the way he would do it? That is a key question for muscular Christians who defend the rights but do not countenance turning the other cheek.