Writer: Elaine EweWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
"Monster's Ball", "Finding Neverland"
Director Marc Forster is definitely no amateur when it comes to movies. With Oscar nominees "Monster's Ball", "Finding Neverland" and "The Kite Runner" under his belt, it is hard to believe that this man can do wrong. But wrong he did, in this adaptation of Childers' memoir "Another Man's War", titled "Machine Gun Preacher".
The movie tells the story of Sam Childers, an alcoholic drug-using biker from Minnesota who kills a man in self-defence and ends up going to jail. On his release from prison, his wife, Lynn, persuades him to go to church with her where he is eventually converted. Now a better man, Childers goes to church regularly, until one day, he is told of the hardships and suffering of the children in South Sudan and Northern Uganda. Intrigued and eager to help, Childers embarks on a journey to save the children of South Sudan in collaboration with the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) against the atrocities of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), only to find himself getting more and more involved, and ultimately, leading armed raids to rescue children from the LRA.
Considering that the movie runs for slightly over two hours, we do not learn much about Childers as a person as opposed to what is hammered into our minds about Childers, saviour of Sudanese children. The scenes, while memorable at key places, such as Childers' relationship with his daughter, are unconnected, such as when the orphanage is attacked at night by LRA fighters. When it seems as though all is lost, the scene stops and we are shown the next morning, with no clue as to how they all survived. Gerard Butler does his best as a man of contained and uncontained violence who tries his best to escape his past, and considering Butler's many stints as questionable and violent characters, this is probably the closest that life can come to imitating art. However, the scenes that Forster chose to show also allow us to see Butler being trigger-happy with no crushing consequences to his actions. In fact, Butler's face rarely has to process more than one emotion as Childers' spiritual and violent sides never seem to have to be in conflict with one another. One does not have to be religious to conclude that if Christianity meant that violence begets violence, then the people of North Korea must all be devoted Christians.
With that said, Butler's role as the Machine Gun Preacher is the best-written role of all, which makes sense considering that it is an adaptation of his memoir after all, but it also explains the many plot holes and the rest of the cast, who are clearly underwritten. Michelle Monaghan reprises her usual wife-with-a-kickass-husband role to no new surprise, while Michael Shannon as Donnie, Childers' drug-using friend, is just drama fodder. Even then, we fail to sympathise with them, except for perhaps Madelline Caroll in her turn as Paige, Childers' daughter. The problem lies in the screenplay by Jason Keller, who is clearly under the assumption that the characters can be there just for the sake of being there and that everything that Childers does is simply something that he did, all because the movie bears the 'based on a true story' label.
The cinematography of is movie may be unable to tie scenes from different set pieces together, but then again, it is because it was designed to squeeze the audience's emotions out. Together with the special effects department, "Machine Gun Preacher" is a tour de force that does not shy away from showing children's missing body parts, dead or alive. The movie itself feels very raw, with no bursts of lively colour, yet it felt choreographed at times, such as when Childers was at his lowest point, the Sudanese boy that was previously known not to speak nor understand a word of English tells Childers his woeful tale in order to help him realise that he can be better than the LRA. And all in English. In addition, major events, such as Childers building a church in Sudan, his rescue of the children, happen just like that.
Ultimately, "Machine Gun Preacher" is by no means a finessed work of Marc Forster. Rather, it is a pretentious piece of work that tries to paint the morally-dubious as saints, with focus on the action as opposed to the spiritual journey, demonstrating once again Hollywood's need to glorify the white man. Don't believe it? Just look at the poster.Cinema Online, 17 January 2012