Machine Gun Preacher is a true-life story that stars Gerard Butler as Sam Childers, a Pennsylvania druggie and hardened criminal whose life changed when he found Jesus. During a missionary trip to Africa, Childers became obsessed with rescuing Sudanese children that were orphaned and recruited by the vicious Lord’s Resistance Army.
It’s meant to be an inspirational story, but Childers’ transformation from a heroin-injecting junkie to a hymn-singing family man is so swift and unconvincing that it’s hard to wrap your head around this character. His heart is in the right place – he builds an orphanage in the middle of this war-torn territory – but given how unflinchingly he picks up a gun and begins shooting down LRA insurgents, you can’t help but question his mercenary methods.
It’s all played out so sincerely and simplistically that it’s hard to connect with; and had the central role been performed by an actor capable of conveying greater complexity, perhaps this might have been a moving film. But Butler plays it like he’s in a gritty action movie and that’s a large part of the reason why this film doesn’t work.
I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Machine Gun Preacher. There’s more gunning than preaching here, and the film’s best intentions get diluted in that bloodbath. Not the best way to spend your weekend.