Written by Andrew Magee

Somewhere in the bizarre life of Sam Childers lurks a fascinating film. Unfortunately, Machine Gun Preacher isn’t it.

Gerard Butler adopts an American twang to play Childers, a violent, Harley-riding drug addict who finds God, finds Africa and finds his new calling in life.

Fresh out of prison and the baptismal font, Childers heads to Uganda on a humanitarian mission, using his construction skills to help with building projects. After a trip north into southern Sudan, Childers finds hundreds of orphaned children fleeing the tyranny of rebel leader Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. Determined to help, he decides to build an orphanage despite warnings that the area is a warzone.

Pretty handy with a weapon himself, Childers sets about defending the children by any means necessary, serving out his own version of religious vigilantism.

Butler does a serviceable job as the rebellious redneck, easily slipping into the leather jacket-wearing and whiskey-drinking world of his past, and adeptly handling a variety of weapons. He even manages to conjure hints of empathy during the film’s emotional episodes.

But that episodic nature is the film’s main let down. It feels like director Marc Forster recognised the need to combine action sequences and sentimental reflection but struggled to bridge the two.

Just as the horror of the Sudanese conflict begins to grip us, we are whisked back to America to hear Butler pontificate from his own personally built church to beg for funds to continue his project.

The sentiments are admirable, and Butler delivers these speeches with fiery passion, but they tend to detract from the power of the war-torn images of Sudan.

Childers frequently bemoans those who prefer discussion over action, yet the film lingers on his own preaching. It is at its best when the horrific images are allowed to speak for themselves, but far too often these moments are cut short.

Machine Gun Preacher has lofty aims, and is enjoyable for the most part, but it never quite manages to reconcile the gap between Rambo-style action and the emotional weight of the Sudanese conflict.

Perhaps this is a fair reflection of the gung-ho Childers (who is still working in the region), but then surely a documentary would have been a better medium for his story.

In any case, the harrowing documentary Invisible Children (2003) does a far better job of documenting child abduction by Kony and the LRA in southern Sudan than Machine Gun Preachercould ever hope to.

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.