Title: Machine Gun Preacher
Jesus Jones, Is That Poster For Real? Mock if you must, but it might do the best job representing the actual contents of the film of any poster since Snakes On A Plane.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: One RPG out of five.
Tagline: "Hope is the greatest weapon of all."
Better Tagline: "But an AK-47 is a close second."
Brief Plot Synopsis: Junkie ex-con Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) finds God and goes to Sudan, where he founds an orphanage and starts leading missions to recover children kidnapped by the Lord's Resistance Army, led by the messianic Joseph Kony.
So What's Wrong With That? Aside from the issues raised by a redneck vigilante tooling around Uganda and Sudan without official sanction, I'll simply quote the doctor who points out that a man killing in the name of God is exactly how Kony himself got started.
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Recently out of stir and already back to his old ways (robbing drug dealers, and not in the noble Omar from The Wire sense), Childers joins ex-stripper wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) for church and gets himself saved. Honest work is hard to come by, but he manages, though forced to sell his beloved Harley and faced with temptation from his ex-spiking buddy Donnie (Michael Shannon). He soon comes to hear about the conflict in southern Sudan and goes over to help out. What he sees shocks him and compels him not only to build an orphanage to help the huge numbers of children displaced by the war, but also to get some righteous payback.
But What Would Jesus Do? Strap up and shoot some guys, is what.
Wait...Are We Talking About The Same Jesus? I'm talking about the American Jesus, who kicks ass and expects others to follow suit. Which pussy Jesus are you talking about?
"Critical" Analysis: Boy howdy, is this movie a mess.
On one hand, I can see where Childers is coming from: The horrifying stories from Africa are so overwhelming and the chances of multinational intervention were so slim before the country was split in two (there's no oil in Sudan, and their Muslims don't have the force projection to threaten our precious shopping malls), it's easy to see how someone might decide to take matters into his own hands.
Frankly, if Childers' story was simply that of a man who decided to take up arms against African warlords, eschewing the twisted Christian rationalizing on display at every turn, it'd be fine. Hell, a little tweaking and you'd have a remake of Red Scorpion. The problem I (and apparently quite a few other people) have with the guy is exactly the hook that supposedly makes this such a compelling story: his alleged love of the Lord.
I have no problem buying Childers's conversion. Here was a man who was at the end of his rope and found salvation as so many other people have. No, the problem with Machine Gun Preacher -- as if the contradictions inherent in the title weren't enough -- is that it becomes fairly obvious as you watch the movie or read interviews with the man, that Christianity merely offers this violent man another outlet for his rage. Pre-born again Childers was an asshole who started fights for no reason and bragged about stealing his friend's girlfriends. After seeing the light, Joliet Jake style, Childers is still a bully. He browbeats the members of his congregation for not being God's Warriors, drives the emotionally unstable Donnie (that's putting it mildly) to suicide, and, in one of the aforementioned interviews, physically threatens a father who for some crazy reason is reluctant to return with this heavily armed white man and his personal militia to his compound.
The obvious disdain for other, non-machine gun-oriented relief organizatons, is apparent. Early on, Childers encounters a doctor from an NGO operating a hospital in Northern Uganda who -- quite reasonably -- wonders if another dude running around north Africa with guns is such a great idea. Later in the film, her medical caravan runs afoul of the LRA and she's only saved by the intervention of Sam and his handpicked bodyguards. The message is clear: providing desperately needed supplies and medical care is all well and good, but if you'd just hand the reins to some heavily armed white trash, all your problems would be solved. It's the same naivete you saw in Rambo. But at least Rambo was fiction.
The piece de resistance comes during the end credits, when we're treated to footage of the real-life Childers in the pulpit, posing with children he's saved and, naturally, one-handed pumping and shooting his favorite shotgun, which he calls the "Widowmaker."
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I wonder what Jesus called his favorite firearm?
See It/Rent It/Skip It: Skip it. The plight of the Sudanese is certainly a worthy cause. Send your $10 you might have spent on a ticket to Doctors Without Borders instead.
Machine Gun Preacher is in theaters today. Huh.