Monday, December 10, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Machine Gun Preacher (2011) **½

R, 129 min.
Director: Marc Forster
Writer: Jason Keller
Starring: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon, Kathy Baker, Ryann Campos, Madeline Carroll, Souleymane Sy Savane

I don’t really know why, but this is a movie I was compelled to watch. I find the subject matter extremely interesting. The movie didn’t get good reviews upon its theatrical release, but still I was intrigued.

It is based on a true story of a man who went from an all out low life criminal to becoming a preacher to building an orphanage in Southern Sudan to benefit children displaced in that country and in Northern Uganda from the volatile political atmosphere of the area. Scottish actor Gerard Butler plays Sam Childers, whose outlook as a Christian has been questioned by some because of his willingness to engage in deadly combat with the political terrorists who menace these two African countries.

It’s easy to see why the film was criticized. Directed by Marc Forester, who was responsible for the excellent films “Monster’s Ball”, “Finding Neverland”, and Stranger Than Fiction”, the first half of the movie is underdeveloped and yet seems to drag out twice as long as its running time. The second half of the film, which is where most of the African portion of the story is found, is like it was made by a different director than the first half, a director who’s results resemble something more like Marc Forster’s past work.

The first half is almost agonizing in its drabness. It’s one of those cases where it’s hard to even pinpoint what is wrong. It has no drive. Perhaps starting right in with Childers’ hopeless behavior doesn’t allow the audience to be pulled in the way it should be. We get no sense of his potential at first, and it is all just a depressing slog through this terrible person’s life. The script doesn’t even really linger on his deviant life for long, but it seems to.

Even once he finds God, it doesn’t really get moving for a while. That could be because God and religion seem to have so little presence in the script. It’s as if screenwriter Jason Keller and Forster were afraid to sound preachy so they didn’t bother to bring God into this story about a man driven by his faith.

Perhaps they felt faith wasn’t really the story here so much as it was about a man driven to do right by those African orphans who didn’t seem to have anyone to defend them. It isn’t until Childers begins to build his orphanage that the film really gets interesting. By that point it has probably lost both the religious and the action crowd. That’s too bad, because it does improve. It will really take a fascination like mine in the subject matter to pull an audience through though. 

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