Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

Machine Gun Preacher is based on a true story, the story of ex Hell’s Angel and bad boy Sam Childers.

At the beginning of the movie Sam gets out of prison. He hasn’t learned anything from that experience and wants to get back to his former life. Drugs, booze, his Harley Davidson and his stripping wife. Unfortunately for him, his wife has found Jesus, works at a mall, doesn’t strip, drink or smoke anymore and goes to church on Sundays. Sam does what he always did, gets drunk and high and ends up fighting with everyone. Then, one night, something really bad happens and wakes him up for good. He joins the church to which his wife belongs, sobers up, sells his bike, gets a decent job.

But that’s not enough for Sam. The way he used to be, lies too heavy on his conscience, he wants more, do more, do better. He builds a church and travels to Africa to see what good the missionaries do there. When he crosses the border into Sudan with a soldier from the Sudanese Liberation Army whom he met in Uganda, he sees things he has never even heard of. Mutilated people, shot women and children, cruelty and violence. He hears about the child soldiers recruited by the LRA (Lords Resistance Army), led by Joseph Kony, sees the many orphans whose parents have been slaughtered. Sam decides that this is his cause. God wants him to help and he will help.

What makes him different from all the social workers down there is that he doesn’t only help and bring money, he also fights. He doesn’t only defend his property, he attacks the aggressors and intimidates them in using the same methods they use. Ultimately he doesn’t mind killing. For him – this is obvious – this is more than just helping, this is fighting a war. A war against oppression, exploitation, violence and cruelty.

If it wasn’t for that, the movie would be average but because of this, it’s a very interesting movie because it seems to state some uncomfortable things and ask interesting questions. Can there be a level of violence which makes it impossible to fight it with non-violence? Could it be dangerous to just try to do good without being prepared to kill and shoot people for the greater good?

I’m not saying I agree with Childers (I personally think we are not meant to intervene everywhere all the time but that’s my opinion. I think if we want to do good, we can start in our own cities, our own neighbourhoods and families.) but I understand his point and found the movie quite interesting.

Machine Gun Preacher reminded me of Lord of War and Blood Diamond and some other movies which make African civil wars and warlords their main topic. While I think it’s a movie which will generate a lot of discussions and I didn’t mind watching it, I still think that movies like Lord of War, Hotel Rwanda and some others were far better. But it’s decent and for Gerard Butler fans certainly a must-see.

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12 thoughts on “Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

  1. the war movie buff says:

    You are much kinder than most critics. It is on Netflix instant so I will try to get around to it. I’m wondering if it was an actor you did not like, would you still have liked it? You have really been pressing the boundary of war movies lately.

    • It’s funny you should say that about the actor. I’m actually not keen on Gerard Butler and was thinking if it had been another actor it would have been far better. I don’t know what problems the critics had. It’s an extremely controversial movie, that’s for sure. I don’t really think I’m stretching the boundaries. There are different types of war and what is being fought in Africa on a daily basis is war.

  2. nem baj says:

    Were it for the trailer only, I’d most certainly pass on this one. But… I remember liking Monster’s Ball and The Kite Runner by the same director, so I’ll probably try.

    Have you seen Johnny Mad Dog?

    • I liked Monster’s Ball as well but haven’t seen The Kite Runner.
      No, I haven’t seen Johnny Mad Dog. there was another one based on a book, I think. I can’t remember the title right now.

      • nem baj says:

        Johnny Mad Dog is largely inspired by the civil war in Liberia, and focuses on children soldiers. Though it left me a bit amiss, I think it’s a well worth watching, very impressive attempt.

        And there are no European/American ‘saviors’ in the picture – which is a breeze. That said, I’m not entirely against that latter kind of story, but in my view it takes a lot of insight and talent not to fail miserably — I consider Russell Bank’s novel American Darling, for instance, to be a masterpiece.

      • I bought that novel a while back but it’s buried under my piles.
        Yes, these saviors tend to be problematic. If Machine Gun Preacher wasn’t based on a true story it would be quite insufferable. I
        I’ll have to see about Johnny mad Dog.
        For the time being I’m returning to”proper” WWII movies. It’s seems “some” of my readers are getting impatient with my choices lately . 🙂

      • nem baj says:

        🙂 Well, I suppose your waiting list is already overbooked. For what it may be worth I’ve had quite a ‘classic Hollywood WWII’ streak recently. My first impressions ordered by theater…

        Philippines
        Wake Island (Farrow, 1942)
        Bataan (Garnett, 1943)
        Back to Bataan (Dmytryk, 1945)
        They Were Expendable (Ford, 1945)
        American Guerilla in the Philippines (Lang, 1950)
        Between Heaven and Hell (Fleischer, 1956)
        In spite of my love for John Ford and Fritz Lang, I regret to say they don’t stand out in a globally average to laughable (Dmytryk) series. I have however a particular fondness for Garnett’s Bataan because it’s a film noir disguised as a combat movie… but none of these can hold a candle to the Japanese Fires on the Plain (Kon Ichikawa, 1959).

        Libya
        Sahara (Korda, 1943)
        Bitter Victory (Ray, 1957)
        The Zoltán Korda is a solid production, but its similarities with both Ford’s Lost Patrol (1934) and Garnett’s Bataan put it at a disadvantage. I liked the Nicholas Ray much better, for its strong pre-Sixties mindset – and the young Richard Burton is certainly a match for Humphrey Bogart.

        Europe
        Twelve O’Clock High (King, 1949)
        This one is an underrated masterpiece about a very un-sexy (!) part of warfare.

        Battle of the Bulge
        Battleground (Wellman, 1949)
        Attack (Aldrich, 1956)
        The Wellman is excellent, even better than the Story of G.I. Joe in my book. As for the Aldrich, well… let’s say I wasn’t in the mood: it certainly has the director’s hard-boiled approach to conflicts between men (or women), but I found it too emphatic.

      • Interesting list. I’ve only seen a few but just received Twelve O’Clock High. I hope to watch it soo. I watched REach for the Sky yesterday and should review it shortly.
        I seem to remember I liked They Were Expendable. I might have Attack somewhere but I’m not sure. I’ve certainly not seen Bataan bu wouldn’t mind watching it.
        Fire on the Plain was on my to be watche dlist for a while now.
        I’ll have some time in the next two weeks to watch and hopefully review as well.

  3. Guy Savage says:

    Thanks Caroline: I’ll rent this. I liked Blood Diamond (you made a comparison). I’m currently almost done wiith the Soviet version of War and Peace. 4 discs….

    • Have you seen Lord of War too? That was very good.
      Machine Gun Preacher is an intersting film, an amazing story.
      I should watch War and Peace too. And read it. I’ve got it this year but the length is daunting.

  4. nem baj says:

    Just watched War Witch, competing for the Foreign Film Academy Award this year.

    A first-person tale (to her newborn-to-be) by an African female child soldier, it’s an amazing piece of work, which avoids many traps of third-person fictions (even those in documentary style, like Johnny Mad Dog), and of many movies about wars on the continent.

    Among other things, it’s a reminder that you can make a great war movie while neglecting both the spectacular and the political commentary, focusing on human perception and emotion. And oddly maybe considering the horrible subject, it manages to be somehow uplifting, yet not ‘feelgood’ at all.

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