In every story, everyone wants redemption. Even the villains, whether they admit it or not, want to be forgiven for what they’ve done. Even if the only means they have for obtaining it is to crush everyone in their path. I found this similarly true with Machine Gun Preacher, a movie that was decidedly different from my expectations.
Plot: Former drug dealer biker, Sam Childers, finds God and moves to the Sudan. There, he finds himself becoming a savior for hundreds of Sudanese children that have been forced to become soldiers.
Cast: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon,
When we meet Sam Childers, he’s leaving a Pennsylvania prison after a stint for an undisclosed crime. He’s angry to learn that his wife has not only stopped stripping, but has become a devout Christian. So angry, that he leaves them to find his biker friends and get high. Things don’t start to change for Sam until an incident with a hitchhiker sets him on a path for redemption. He cleans himself up, becomes baptized, and starts steady work as a contractor. After a tornado tears through Pennsylvania, he creates his own construction business with his own crew to handle the work. An intervention from God or happy coincidence? After hearing a sermon from a visiting preacher, Childers feels compelled to go to Uganda as part of a mission trip, perhaps because he was once a man of violence. During his trip, he seeks out a way to visit the worst of the war zone, and it’s here that the story takes a turn.
Having never been in a war zone, I can only imagine what it must feel like to see the remnants of battle, to have a child die in your arms after stepping on a mine, or the terror of knowing that any child you can’t save today will be dead tomorrow. I imagine that’s why Childers build his own church in Pennsylvania– one that wouldn’t turn away sinners, like himself. Why he made trip after trip to Uganda and the Sudan, building an orphanage and a playground. Saving as many children as he could with each visit. The film depicts a man who seems to replace one addiction (heroin) for another (the children of the Sudan); who sells the majority of his possessions, becomes estranged to his wife and child, and whose real world can only exist when he’s fighting.
I don’t know the relation of the timing of Machine Gun Preacher to the Stop Kony documentary (the man who is behind all of the rapes, murders, mutilations, torture, and child abducts referenced in MGP), nor had I much prior knowledge of the struggle that is still going on today. After watching Machine Gun Preacher, I’m still not sure how much I know. I appreciate wanting to tell this story – it’s an important one to be told – and the retelling of real world events doesn’t always have a clear cut hero, villain, or story; however, I couldn’t tell if this was the story of a man seeking redemption for his violent past, if it was to spread awareness about the violence in Uganda and inspire others to help, or if it was merely the telling of a period in one man’s life. Did the film touch me in some way? Yes. Would I recommend it to others? Yes. Would I suggest it as a way to better understand the ongoing strife in Uganda? Absolutely not.
More than anything, as troubling as the truth of the violence in that region is, I felt like even the film wasn’t sure if Childers is a good guy or bad. Heck, I’d settle for well-intentioned. I didn’t need to view him with a hero’s lens, but I wanted to at least like him. More often than anything, I thought he was an ass, trading one high for another. But I would recommend this film.
Personal Recommendation for Reader Viewing:
Had a date night with Wifey recently, and this was her cinematic choice. She’d read the book, and I was vaguely familiar with the premise (reporter does interviews with the maids of a small town and publish a book) so we gave it a shot. Between the superb cast (wonderful to see a film lead by women for a change) and the gripping story, it was worth the emotional agony of the first hour.
Still building the queue for next week. Hoping to make it through more than three films since Wifey is out of town on another business trip.
So stay tuned for MOD Week, Part Two!