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Machine Gun Preacher – movieScope

It would be very easy to look at the cover of Machine Gun Preacher and instinctively pigeonhole it as pure action based largely on the presence of Gerard Butler. After all, the macho Scot has seen his Hollywood stock rise on the back of action-packed films such as Reign of Fire, 300, Gamer and Law Abiding Citizen.

That would be doing this moving story a disservice, however. Director Marc Forster may have strayed into action territory with the tepid 007 outing Quantum of Solace, yet he made his own name with emotional tour de forces such as Monster’s Ball and The Kite Runner. He certainly knows his way around tricky subjects like civil war, murder and prison.

When we meet Sam Childers (Butler), he is finishing a spell in jail and itching to slip straight back into the biker gang criminal lifestyle that saw him locked up in the first place. His disgust at wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) and daughter’s Christian conversion during his incarceration soon sees him seek out childhood buddy Donnie (Michael Shannon). It’s not long before the two of them find trouble; a brutal drug fueled stabbing leading to a moment of clarity for Sam. Redemption comes in the form of religion, Childers’ insatiable capacity for evil transformed into an insatiable one for good. On his return from an African visit to build homes for the poor, he soon gets it into his head that the abducted and abused children of Sudan need his protection from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). After amassing an impressive reputation for construction projects back home, he takes it upon himself to build his very own church and Sudanese orphanage. Life soon becomes a whirlwind of preaching, Sudanese mercy missions and family life, Childers’ 180-degree turn quest for redemption in the eyes of the Lord consuming everything not long after.

The story gives Butler a brilliant vehicle to show that he is more than just an action beefcake or sparkly-eyed romcom lead. And backed up by solid turns from Monaghan and Shannon, along with a winning performance from Souleymane Sy Savane as Sudanese freedom fighter Deng, Forster has a classy core to get his message across. Wisely, too, he gives the scenes in when Butler’s Childers begins to question his mercy mission room to breathe.

Kudos must also go to Asche & Spencer for the understated score, while Roberto Schaefer’s lush cinematography makes wonderful use of the brooding US setting and wide African plains.

Hollywood doesn’t make enough top drawer message movies; consequently we should applaud those that go the extra mile to inform us about atrocities without going into sentimental overdrive. Machine Gun Preacher is such a film, and marks a much-needed return to form for Forster together with a juicy role for the versatile Butler.



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