This is the true story of Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) who, after renouncing his violent biker lifestyle when he “finds Jesus”, discovers his calling constructing an orphanage for the thousands of children affected by a civil war which still rages today. This comes after he is exposed to the horrors of war whilst helping the Christian missionary effort in war-torn Sudan.
Machine Gun Preacher has so much to say in terms of plot and message that by the second act it is tripping over itself in its haste to get it all on screen in the 120 minute runtime. The film attempts to portray the dual lives of Sam as husband, father and church leader in Philadelphia, and “The White Preacher” as he is known in Sudan. However, this is where the film really struggles. Having to divide the narrative in this way leaves both sides of Sam’s life feeling under-developed for the viewer. Consequently, our connection with the other characters in his life, especially his daughter, feel almost non-existent. This means that when something involving them does happen, it is harder to care, and viewers are left confused as to with whom their allegiances should lie: his family or the children? The scenes flit between these two narratives almost at random and without warning, and several of the subplots are either forgotten or left unexplained by the films equally abrupt conclusion.
This film is so blunt and unashamed about its political message, that it is almost hitting you over the head with it from the moment Sam arrives in Africa. The graphic violence, often involving children, and explanations of the many atrocities committed during the conflict, come together in a powerful way. The stark portrayal of the troubles in Sudan contrasted with Sam’s family life brings home the colossal diversity of lifestyles in the world, as well as the naivety and ignorance of the people who expect their comforts as a right and not a privilege. Despite some questionable storytelling, if you have an interest in this deprived part of the world and those who give their lives trying to fix it (or if you just want to see some damn good acting by Gerard Butler), then this is definitely one to watch.