Machine Gun Preacher (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

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It's a good thing the brunt of Machine Gun Preacher is such an aimless mess, otherwise this entire review would consist of paragraph upon paragraph lampooning Gerard Butler.

Have I tipped my hand too early?  Well, it's only because I'm following suit in the same spirit of the movie.  MGP makes the bold intention of reform and spiritual regrowth in the face of shadowy opposition firmly established in the opening act.  Less obvious is how the slaughter of a Sudanese family fits into the story of one biker's rehabilitation, but I tried to have faith in Marc Forster.

Forster, who has directed other great dramas like Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland, and tipped a gentle hand at comedy with Stranger Than Fiction, should not have been tapped to direct a war-time drama.  If anything, the producers could have taken one look at Quantum of Solace and seen that action was not, perhaps, his forte.  Granted, MGS tries to look more at the character of Sam Childers, but even based on those results I'm not entirely certain what the movie really knew what to think of him.Based on the film, I have my own idea, but the meandering pace at which we get to the core of Childers is a bit too presumptive of our patience.  For those of you not in the Based On A True Story loop, Childers is a man who had a history of abuse both domestic and drug-related, who rehabilitated himself after being touched by God and eventually went to Sudan to try and help save children ravaged by the Lord's Resistance Army.

If you don't know about the LRA, you have probably missed the viral sensation that was Kony 2012, and you need to count yourself amongst the blessed.  With that blessing come two pieces of advice: do not watch Kony 2012 or MGS to start forming your opinion on Sudan and the LRA, and instead do some research yourself.  Kony 2012 and MGS are both on the same level when it comes to thoughtfully filling in their respective audiences on what they need to know to understand the conflict.  Which is, to say, they don't have much to offer.

Much of my distaste with MGS is how it presents the Sudanese conflict with the LRA as a way of interrupting a man's growing redemption, rather than it being something which he chooses to do.  The Childers of MGS is a manic man who is accused of being a bad father and given the evidence on display in the film that's easy to believe.  Childers goes straight from prison to ignoring his family with drugs, then with his church work, then with the fight he decides to take in overseas.  The idea of a man torn between multiple ideas of himself is something Forster has done well in the past, but focusing equally on Childers as a growing person and as a militant volunteer forces the film to split its focus too much.

The word I'm searching for is authenticity, and a lot of why the film lacks this has to do with Butler being cast as Childers and whoever decided it would be a good idea to begin with.  Whoever they should have gotten to play Childers needed to be able to portray all these different ideas of himself at once and Butler is not that kind of actor.  He was good in 300 and The Phantom of the Opera precisely because he was not asked to be very multifaceted.He just doesn't look right in many of these scenes.  This is especially obvious in the opening scenes when he is still supposed to be a tough guy hanging out with all these bikers.  In comparison to the raw slabs of aggression and beer swilling around him Butler comes off as flabby and ill-fitting.  By comparison the excellent Michael Shannon is cast as Donnie, a longtime friend of Childers' who does fit in, lanky frame and all, by barely restraining his violent psychosis with every friendly gesture he gives.

Shannon, as much as I love him, and his character are yet another example of how much aimless padding the film has.  Once Childers has gone through his family on the way to Sudan there's little else that they can be used for or say in the thematic elements of the film.  Donnie is the most egregious example of this, despite being the most well cast in the film, since his own redemption plot has nothing to add to the arc of the movie.

What's left is empty comfort food, which is of no use to anyone.  Despite the violence and the family heartbreak, MGS is trying to tell a simple story when it needs to be far more complex than it is.  Childers is not molded by anyone but the screenwriter, changing his passion and motivations as much as the scene at hand demands, and little else.

The situation is Sudan is far more complex than this, and Childers the man must be more complex than this.  Sad for both the movie does not follow suit.

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Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

Directed by Marc Forster.
Screenplay by Jason Keller.
Starring Gerard Butler.

Posted by Andrew

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