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IN SHORT: Slow, but emotionally moving with a good perf by Gerard Butler. [Rated R for violent content including disturbing images, language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality. 123 minutes]
Let's talk some rough talk about one Sam Childers (Gerard Butler). Just released from prison when we first meet him, Sam's a hard drinking, drug abusing dude who (seriously) loves his wife but carries a temper that puts him very close to crossing into wife abuser territory. Sam is a scary dude. The prison tatt on his arm is of an angel's head with the trade name "Harley" wrapped around it. Sam bears the Harley's Angel tattoo with as much pride as he shows, tooling around on the chopper that's been waiting for him at home, along his lovely wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), herself a junkie stripper. At least she was when Sam went into the big house.
Upon his release from wherever prison for whatever reason, Sam wants a beer and a smoke and an enthusiastic roll in the hay with the wife, not necessarily in that order. What Sam doesn't want to hear is anything about her finding Jesus and getting cleaned up and straightened out. Sam calls his old buddy Donnie (Michael Shannon) and the pair pick up where Sam's old life left . That means a home invasion, a brutal beating of the occupant ot the invaded home and the theft of said occupant's personal belongings.
Contrast this with images of the civil war in Uganda, where soldiers called the "Lord's Resistance Army" (LRA) attack and destroy remote villages in the dead of night. They kill the men, steal the younger and female children, and force the boys into "service". The boys' initiation into their new, forced adult life begins with a wood club and an act of matricide, forced at the point of a gun.
If you haven't figured it out yet, we'll be blunt. There is a whole mess of morally repugnant behaviors that will assault you as Machine Gun Preacher sets its story up. There is behavior that is physically brutal and repugnant, and you get to see it all on a big screen. The victim in Uganda is a boy to be called William. He stops speaking following the the trauma of his "initiation'. In the USA, the "victim," by the way, of the home invasion is a street level drug dealer. Sam and Donnie rip off money and drugs so they can shoot up and get loaded at the local biker bar. Not necessarily in that order. Just like the good old days.
Well, except for the wife and the Jesus thing. Sam doesn't appreciate this change of moral status and personal ideals but he does let ynn drag him to church now and then. It isn't until he hits bottom; a literal bender of all benders, that he begs his wife for help and surrenders himself to the moral strictures and guidance of the local church.
I think the generic phrase "He found Jesus" covers it. At least it sure did for the loudmouth sitting behind yours Cranky at the press screening of MGP who wouldn't shut up with the "hallelujahs" and various other religious praises. Actually the guy wouldn't shut up even when asked to (we said "please" and everything...) but the room was stuffed to the gills and there was no spare seat for us to move so, onwards.
One Sunday, the church is visited by a pastor returned from working in war torn Uganda. He speaks. Sam listens and it's off to Africa where he will build an orphanage in the middle of a war zone twixt northern Uganda and Sudan. That's geography according to the film as we haven't looked at a map in decades.
That's only the basics of the story, whose time frame is best observed as you watch Sam and Lynn's on daughter Paige (Madeline Carroll) grow into a young woman. As Sam, who now makes his living in the construction business, builds his own church and finds himself ministering on these shores and toting a machine gun on a different continent to rescue kidnapped kidlets from the LRA.
That's a whole mess of story we've detailed. There is half a mess (sic) more that we won't tell you. All put together this should have made Machine Gun Preacher a knock down grand slam of a film. We found director Marc Forster's direction to be remarkably one-note, as if he figured that all the changes in the screenplay's story would be enough. We are as surprised to write those words as any of you who pay close attention to credits -- Forster's include Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland -- should be to read them. But it is what it is.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Machine Gun Preacher, he would have paid . . .
Machine Gun Preacher is not a bad film. It just should have been a terrific film, despite the repugnant material.
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