Machine Gun Preacher * * * *


Director: Marc Foster.
Screenplay: Jason Keller.
Starring: Gerard Butler, Michael Shannon, Michelle Monaghan, Souleymane Sy Savane, Kathy Baker, Madeline Carroll, Grant Krause, Reavis Graham, Peter Carey.

Marc Foster is quite a versatile director that seems to be able to turn his hand at many different genres. His fantastical “Finding Neverland” and comedic “Stranger than Paradise” are a far distance from say, his gritty debut “Monster’s Ball” or even his foray into Bond territory with “Quantum Of Solice“. With this movie, he has changed direction again and it’s no less accomplished than his previous film’s.

Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) is a drug using, violent biker who has just been released from prison. Upon his release he is soon back to his old wicked ways but having nearly murdered a man in defence of his best friend Donnie (Michael Shannon), he decides to turn his attention to God and find redemption. It’s at this point, that his spiritual journey begins and he finds himself taking up arms to liberate Sudanese refugee children from the LRA – the local militia, known as the Lord’s Resistance Army.

The very premise of this film seems like it’s has been concocted in some executive Hollywood office. I can just imagine it being pitched and how ridiculous it might have sounded. However, this is actually based on a true-story and the real Sam Childers is still, to this day, fighting for the freedom of African Children. That being said, I had never heard of Childers before or the ongoing struggle he is directly involved in and as a result I was left with the unfortunate title of this film and it’s slightly off-putting poster as my only information. After a few mindless action movies under his belt, you’d be forgiven for mistaking this recent Gerard Butler film as being in a similar vein. After all, the poster depicts him brandishing a rifle with the obligatory cowering child, hiding by his side. This very imagery and the more than dubious title completely misleads. It’s actually quite far from that type of film and more of a human and political drama. Thankfully, I still gave this a chance and left it feeling quite satisfied indeed. This is thanks in large to a charismatic and very powerful performance from it’s leading man. There is a real intensity to Butler’s delivery and it’s credit to the filmmakers that the flawed and distasteful behaviour of Childers is not ignored. He wasn’t someone that you’d like to cross paths with, yet Butler plays him with just enough edge and compassion – never fully losing your support or feelings of isolation from him. His transformation from violent misogynist to redeemed man of God and ultimately, saviour and mercenary is believable, if a little unexplained. Yes, there are flaws in the character development but it’s proof that given the right role, Butler can certainly deliver the goods. It’s his committed and passionate performance that forgives some big leaps in character progression. Ultimately, this fault is in the screenplay as the supporting characters also suffer; again, they are not bad performances but their roles are very underwritten. Michelle Monaghan is good but distant and this could be said even more for the very underrated Kathy Baker, who has absolutely nothing to do as Childers’ long suffering mother but the biggest waste of talent comes in the shape of Michael Shannon. With an Oscar nomination behind him for “Revolutionary Road” and a superb leading role in “Take Shelter“, this man should have been utilised more wisely. He still manages a presence but really, him and the aforementioned actresses melt into the background.
Slight over-length may also be an issue here but trying to condense anyone’s life story without causing some major bum-numbing amongst viewers can’t be an easy task.

This is a film primarily about one man – Sam Childers – and thankfully, the actor chosen to play him is more than up to the task. Despite some flaws, this is still an admirable and thoroughly involving biopic.

Mark Walker


12 Responses to “Machine Gun Preacher * * * *”

  1. I’m glad you decided to give this film a chance, Mark. This underrated film suffers from terrible marketing, Relativity pretty much dropped this film from its roster and did not bother to invest in its marketing at all, that’s why to this day I still get questions from my friends whether this movie is like ‘Shoot ’em Up’ or ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’! It’s really a pity because as you can see, there is a compelling story that’s heavy on human drama, which is as far away from a frivolous action flick.

    That poster is unfortunate as well, there’s another version that I think communicates the message a LOT better but of course it’s less sensational so they didn’t use it:

    In any case, I think Butler is indeed excellent here, he definitely has a strong dramatic presence on top of his bad-ass persona that people seem to associate with. I think the script could’ve been much improved as his transformation does feel way too fast which makes it less credible. I have read quite a bit about Childers leading up to the film and I’d say GB did an astounding job portraying him, and yes, it’s good that the film was true to how he was, warts and all. That part about him losing faith [when he was confronting Donny] is made-up though, Childers said so in an interview, they made him look like he doubted God to add more ‘drama.’ Btw, here’s my review in case you’re interested:

    Thanks for the write-up, Mark!


    • Absolutely Ruth! I looked into Childers after this and realised (as always) there is some dramatic license. The character development could definitely have been stronger but Butler’s performance was so good, he overshadowed the inconsistencies.

      I had a look at other posters also but deliberately chose the one that was marketed to make the point of how this film could easily become a casualty of “judging a book by it’s cover”, if you know want I mean? There are far better and more suitable posters out there, so I wonder what they where trying to achieve by marketing this film in the way that they done. It wouldnt have pleased anyone in search of an action film, that’s for sure. But then, that’s why I liked it so much. I got something completely different from what I was expecting.


  2. I have only heard of this once and never planned an seeing it. My mind is changed though and will work it in sometime.

    Hey, I did an interview with a blog you probably know. Here is the link if you want to read it.


    • I found this to be quite an underrated film Alec. It’s a shame it’s been ignored as much as it has. Check it out man.

      I had a look at your link there. Yeah, I’m familiar with Nostra. That’s great you got a bit of focus over there, he runs a great blog. Well done man.


  3. The marketing is terrible! I had no plans at all to see this, but now you’ve made me change my mind. Thanks! I’ll definitely rent this within the next couple of months.


    • I had no plans to see this either Jessica. It cropped up though and I quite like Butler, so decided to go with it. It’s not going to please everyone but it deserves a little more attention. It’s one of those film’s where you expect very little but find yourself actually liking it.


  4. I saw this in the cinema a while back… and I didn’t really like it.

    I can’t remember why now, I did write a review….

    I am turning into a right old grumpy bassa


    • Lol. A right grumpy bassa you say sir? I’ve not heard “bassa” been used for years man. You took me back there.

      Yeah, I can understand folks not liking this but I still think it has been unfairly swept aside. Butler’s performance alone is worth a couple of quid from the bargain bin.


  5. Great review, Mark! I’m thinking of giving this one a chance. It was garnering some awards buzz but then it died down somewhat and disappeared from the radar.


  6. moviefan Says:

    This is a very compelling film. I could not wait to see it as I had read Childers’ book first (Another Man’s War).
    Needless to say that Butlers performance was amazing and Oscar worthy.
    What I still am curious about is why it was dumped by Relativity and trashed (intentionally?) by the critics.


    • I totally agree. The backlash this film received and the bad marketing is beyond me. Okay, the film does have flaws but they’re not as terrible as it was getting made out to be. Butler is superb in it. I loved to see him use his acting chops a bit more.
      Thanks for chipping in. Always a pleasure to hear new opinions.


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