28 October 2011 | leecjaster
Uneven, lackadaisical, and shockingly emotionless.
What in God's name was director Marc Forster thinking when he took on Machine Gun Preacher? Sporting a talented leading man with chops and charm far beyond his most well known work, Gerard Butler can't work his way past a series of unfortunate hurdles Machine Gun Preacher lays out.
Along with Butler, a memorable performance from Michael Shannon (unsurprisingly), and an inspirational story are wasted on an effort that has major issues in tone, plot, and overall message. Machine Gun Preacher is uneven, pedestrian, and shockingly emotionless, conspicuously so for a tale of a man who survives prison and drug abuse to open an orphanage in Africa.
(There's no need for remorse here, just because it's about Africa doesn't mean it's a good flick, or that it needs to be seen.)
Gerard Butler plays Sam Childers, a former drug dealer getting out of prison in the Machine Gun Preacher's opening scene. From the first line, where Butler groans a force expletive at the guard, it's obvious that Machine Gun Preacher has no idea what it's trying to say, nor how to execute it if it did.
After returning home to his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and child (Madeline Carroll), Childers is ready to return to his old ways, since prison didn't change a thing about the man. His wife has found Jesus however, and it's time for Sam to do the same. Hence, after a brief few days of drug fueled insanity with his buddy Donnie (Michael Shannon), resulting in an attempted murder and loads of other good times, he hits rock bottom and gets down with Jesus too.
Don't mistake the tone as satirical, Machine Gun Preacher plays out exactly as described.. It's as if every scene was attempted to be shot with as little effort as possible. It feels as if the audience is reading a biographic of Sam Childers with only straight facts, no sense of motivation of feeling in it. Machine Gun Preacher is dryer than an encyclopedia entry about Childers... Honestly, wikipedia tells a more interesting narrative, and it saves you two hours.
Sam eventually finds God, gets his life together, and embarks on a mission to Africa. The reason for his interest was simple enough, overhearing a guest speaker at church mention the need for volunteers. Sam, whilst in Africa, doesn't just stick to his mission works, instead deciding to tour some of the most dangerous land in the world. He comes back a changed man, something prison never did to him.
Becoming obsessed with Africa, Sam makes frequent trips back to set up an orphanage for children. All of this causes stress at home, conflicts with the life he lives in America, and begins to divide his attention so much that he neglects and loses focus on his family at home for his children abroad.
His friend Donnie also cleaned up his act with God, and is watching over Sam's family while he's gone. The relationship between the two is by far the most interesting in the entire story, but Forster chooses to waste Shannon's glorious talent and keep him in the narrative as little as possible. It's a sub plot that eventually effects Sam's life in am major way, but it wasn't built up enough on-screen, and the audience just doesn't care past Michael Shannon's empathetic performance.
Sounds like the makings of an emotional climax, right? Especially when Sam decides to take matters into his own hands and must defend the orphanage from attack, and Sam even becomes proactive, seeking out baddies to take down. The issue is, none of the action sequences are gripping, every shot is devoid of effort, and the end result is a flat interpretation of what was probably some juicy real life material. It's a damn shame to see Machine Gun Preacher come out the way it did.
Shannon and Butler shine through the clouds, but it's a losing battle Despite a few moments of emotion or suspense, 90% of Machine Gun Preacher is a flat lined affair. It's a shame that Sam Childers didn't get an on-screen product that is cohesive in its message, pacing, and direction. His life is far more interesting than the product made about it, and the situation in Africa is once again told as a national geographic sociology report, rather than a personal struggle to motivate those to take action. Which, could have been the point of Machine Gun Preacher... it's hard to say.
On the Side
Michelle Monaghan is beyond typecast as this point. Once again, the role seems enticing, Oscar bait even, but in the hands of this director and screenplay, her character is reduced to a supportive yet tough device to further Sam's arc along. She isn't given the time she deserves, just as Shannon's character wasn't.