I finally saw the movie called the Machine Gun Preacher. Gerard Butler plays the title character, who’s real name is Sam Childers. He published a book titled Another Man’s War, which forms the basis for the movie. There is no denying the thousands of children being saved by Mr. Childers and his associates each day, each week, each month from the war-torn region of Southern Sudan. There seems to have been the potential for suspense, action, and drama. Instead, none of those qualities materializes as the movie loses its way in the first thirty minutes. Another way to say this is that the screenwriter and director take their eyes off of Childers. This leads to the character going out of focus along with the plot and the story.
Normally, director Marc Forster is a reliable storyteller behind the camera. He has a penchant for seeking out the hot potato stories and turning them into thoughtful and compelling dramas. For example, Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, and Stranger than Fiction represent some of Forster’s best work. When it comes to the Machine Gun Preacher, I do not know if the director ever bought into Childer and his life’s work. Forster’s strength is usually depicting tremendous depth and heart to his characters. He gets up close and personal so to speak. In the Machine Gun Preacher, the audience is always at arms length toward Childers whether at home or in the Sudan. I would go so far as to say that Forster’s movie works best when it is stateside. The Sudan scenes are contrived and/or exploitative, which take the viewer out of the movie.
Another key point to mention is that the screenplay tackles too many big themes: violence in the name of freedom, personal faith as it relates to life expression, poverty and violence in the Third World, and much more. Each one of these themes by themselves is more than enough for one feature film. When the script is not clear in its message, the movie will not be any clearer, too. There are rare instances when a film is better than its script. 2001: A Space Odyssey and Crimson Tide are two examples that come to mind. Normally, this is not the case. If the script lacks solidity, then so will the movie. The Machine Gun Preacher seems to have been made from a rough draft. I do not think the screenwriter ever had a clue about Childers and his life. The proof is in the pudding.
There is a documentary about Childers, which is everything Forster’s picture is not. Should one see Machine Gun Preacher? If there is nothing really worth watching on television, then I say give the feature a glance. It does shed light on the humanitarian situation in Sudan. I recommend balancing the fiction movie with the documentary, which illustrates quite poignantly why Childers is who he is, and why he does his work. This is precisely the gaping hole with Forster’s picture. Plus, the director’s movie comes off exploitative at times, which leaves a bad taste in the viewer’s mouth. It is a shame that an important subject and setting finds its way into a subpar story.