Depending on how you like The Butler to do it, in Machine Gun Preacher you get the best of both Gerald’s.
Arguably, Gerald Butler is one of those actors with immense screen presence who has been known to make the odd curious choice of movie; not yet bettering his noble turn in 300 when sublimely mixing class with chiseled awesomeness, onto a multitude of mainstream schmaltz; PS I Love you, The Ugly Truth and the quite awful The Bounty Hunter.
In recent watch Coriolanus and with a plethora of decent sounding titles to come it looks like we may well get to see the best of Butler again. The man oozes class; with an already varying quality resume it’s in vehicles like this we often get to see him at his best.
As born again real life preacher Sam Childers, at first witness a completely bad-ass but not very nice Butler, onto a still very violent Butler via the agreeable reformed drug addict Butler. The tangible transformation of Childers allows us to see the fuller range many believe (including I) Butler is capable of.
After finding god after a stint inside, Childers’ rebel finds a cause and devotes himself to a mission to take care of war- torn children in Sudan and Uganda.
With a miss-selling title you could be put you off as I was for some time, but this isn’t just another mindless action title; a one man crusade yes, but not exactly Rambo goes to Africa.
With Butler’s invested performance hitting many of the right notes, whether in dealing out righteous justice or in emotional exchanges there’s a well-meaning heart to this which also brings home the horrific casualties of Civil war-torn Africa via unflinching acts of brutality dished out by militia factions, resulting in the plight of innocent children, subjected to fighting beyond their years.
Director Marc Forster doesn’t shy away from telling the big themes of the well visited ravaged Africa and one man’s religious conversion, but Childers’ change from hell raiser to servant of god comes at a pace too quick at first to truly convince of his born again credentials. Within twenty minutes he has gone from leather clad hell-raiser to a clean shirted family man.
Perhaps that’s the reality of being born again, but the struggle and the pain doesn’t quite translate, when coupled with an overnight switch from poverty to building a successful construction company, a passage of time only noticeable by the growth of daughter Paige, not by appropriate pacing. With a substantial run-time much more time could have been spent on Childers’ early personal journey rather than dwelling overlong and in repetition on his later path to redemption.
Redemption comes in the shape of freedom fighting and orphanage building utilising Childers’ skills in combat as well as laying a brick; and after seeing the light, we see Butler at his powerful and ruthless best when touting machine guns and the odd RPG and taking home the reality of the suffering seen to his Pennsylvanian congregation in blistering sermons, abusing his idle flock for inaction and ignorance.
With an unraveling obsession to complete his godly mission while keeping the home fires burning Childers’ doubts resurface to offer a glimpse at the beast within once more, channeling a proficiency in guns and battle to up the action ante once more.
The fallout back home is felt by long suffering but supporting wife Michelle Monaghan in a resolute, independent woman show, the rock for Childers’ foundation and daughter Madeline Carroll gives a mature performance, but fellow reformed pal Michael Shannon is wastefully underused and cast here by his recent pivotal roles.
In trying to satisfy the many aspects of the emotional and bombastic fight at home and away Machine Gun Preacher doesn’t quite allow itself to fully devote to one arc, while adequately doing enough in each, it’s limited to make any one element truly great.
But as a tale of one man’s righteous journey to redemption and the plight of many innocents it’s honest, brutal and compelling; and in his best turn since 300, Butler brilliantly holds it all together as the pulsating, achy-breaky heart.
His character’s apparent love for baseball rather than’ the beautiful game’ though is a step too far for me and likely the ‘Soccer’ loving Butler ;)
But The Butler did it; proving again that when avoiding the schmaltz, if anyone can, Gerald can!