Did I want to be the person who hated the movie that was based on the true story of Sam Childers, a former drug-addicted criminal who turned from bad-ass "hillbilly" (his word, not mine) to African child-saving martyr? No. Was I that jerk who left the theater groaning instead of giving a standing ovation? You betcha. I want to be clear that every awful thing I'm going to say about this movie has nothing to do with Childers as a person, because I'm certainly not writing this from my self-built orphanage in Africa. I'm not really here to criticize the man's Machiavellian philosophy about whether or not extreme violence is ever justified -- not today, anyways. So when I say Childers from now on, it will be referring to the actor who portrayed him in Machine Gun Preacher, Gerard Butler, who, given the role of playing an extremely angry man with a questionable sense of right and wrong, did a fine job. The movie's content, however, made me feel compelled to write a big WARNING label for anyone interested in this film who fits into the following categories:
People Who Hate Jesus-Infused Movies
The three main characters in this movie are Childers, war-torn Sudan and God. If you were one of the 11 people who saw the Bethany Hamilton biopic Soul Surfer, it's comparable to that in terms of how much God was crammed down my throat. There is literally a scene where, a day (question mark after that, because I have no idea exactly how much time had passed; the pacing was all over the place) after robbing a man in his one home, bashing in his head and murdering a hitchhiker while high on heroin, Childers goes to church with his wife (Michelle Monaghan), daughter (Ryan Campos when she's young; Madeline Carroll when she's older) and mother (Kathy Baker) and -- after much thigh-squeezing tension, natch -- finally decides to stand up, claim himself a sinner and get baptized in front of the congregation. From that point on, everything in this man's life is about Jesus. He finds strength to stop being a junkie thanks to Jesus. When he helps the children of Africa, he does it in the name of Jesus. He even starts his own church for sinners, where he spreads the word of... okay, you get it. I just really need to make it clear that the word "preacher" is in the title for a reason.
Irony of ironies: I still wouldn't recommend this movie to Christians... the Christians I know, anyways. I just think they would be offended to see so much blood claimed in the name of the Lord. There do seem to be tiny moments in the film -- especially the end, which director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, The Kite Runner left a little ambiguous -- where Childers' choice of using violence to combat violence is questioned, but he's clearly painted the hero of this movie, because if he doesn't save these children from the brutal African Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), who will?
Those Sensitive to White Man's Burden Stories
As much as I don't want to touch this with a 20-foot-pole, I felt that this movie is one of those about the white person coming in to help save the "savages." Yes, it's true that the children in this movie (and in reality, but again, let's separate that from the film) can thank Childers for saving their lives. But Childers carries out plenty of his own violence, some of which is inflicted on children, too. He blames himself for their deaths and everything -- ooh, does he blame himself -- but when others try to show him that peace can prevail, he can't get it through his thick skull. Only when Deng (Souleymane Sy Savane), his right-hand Sudanesse man, tells him that he's getting a little cray cray with all of the violence does he actually cool himself down... momentarily. Oh, and God forbid (pun intended!) you're a white person who does not want to give this man with a history of brutality $5,000 to buy a new truck. See you in actual hell.
Don't like image after image of viciously injured and murdered man, woman and child? Keep your eyes covered throughout this flick because they pop up a whole lot. It kind of felt like I was in a haunted house and just knew that every few minutes, a person with their face freshly blown off was going to pop out at me. What I'm saying is: it could have been done better. I understand why the film had it and the importance of raising awareness for Sudan, but I didn't even have the option of looking away. If you want to know the story and get involved in the real movement of the Angels of East Africa, check out his website instead. It's significantly less vomit-inducing.
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