Review: Machine Gun Preacher

machine gun preacher gerald butler

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!

Insidious 3 stars

36 responses to “Review: Machine Gun Preacher

  1. Fine review sir. I really liked this. I didn’t expect to and it did have flaws but like you, rightly, mention, Butler is very good indeed. He’s shows a great range. The title is definitely misleading and Shannon definitely underused but overall its a good flick.

      • Underusing Shannon was criminal. How could you do such a thing. That being said, Butler is on blistering form. These are the types of roles I’d like to see of from him. He’s defnitley got the acting chops.

      • Shannon is one of my favourite right now, one day he will win an oscar that lad. and Butler is capable for me, he has presence in the first place which is a key start, give him the roles – he will deliver.

      • very true on both counts! what that role could be who knows, but he could do anything! want to see Olympus has fallen after watching this and going to find Dear Frankie, seen pretty much everything else of his

      • I’m not overly enthusiastic on Olympus. I will watch it one day but I’m in no rush. Dear Frankie is still the beat film he’s done in my opinion. Marvellous little film. You can get it on Amazon for a couple of quid.

      • Speaking of Scots. I managed to get Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh to swing by my blog and check out my review of the film (the Scottish version). I’m over the moon man. 🙂

      • Took a chance and sent him the link. It’s written in the style that he writes so I thought he’d be up for it. Turns out he was. He got back to me this morning.

    • Mark & Claratsi,

      Referring to Michael Shannon, I think you guys are looking at it wrong. Michael Shannon is one of my favorite actors, and I don’t feel he was underused at all. The script had been written and the role was a small part; what I am happy about is that Michael Shannon TOOK the small role in the first place – b/c he could have passed up on the supporting role, but he took it and gave one of my favorite performances he’s turned in.

      When he has his revelation how he needs to change his life and turn it around, etc. I felt it. He was a very endearing character. A lesser actor may not have been able to pull this off the way he did. We have seen many actors play these types of roles before, but most of them don’t have the ability to make you FEEL it and usually make the moment feel more cheesy than poignant. This is why I am glad Shannon took the role – and just b/c it was a small role didn’t mean it wasn’t a good role. And I don’t think the character was underused b/c the focus of the story was Sam’s character and him being in Africa. And you have to also keep in mind this was based off a true story, so if Shannon’s character had been more relevant I’m sure they would have included that in the script.

      I wrote an entry on Michael Shannon on my blog if interested in reading; it’s under the “Actors” category.

      Glad to see some guys on here recognizing Michael Shannon’s talent. 🙂

      • Not sure we are looking at it “wrong”, but you are right that Shannon can no doubt be applauded for taking a small role; we just want more Shannon, more Shannon, and more Shannon – now! 😉
        We love him, and if we don’t’ well…when he is general Zod we’re gonna have to or he might destroy us.
        Yes, the true story would dictate certain elements of course, but it is possible some artistic licence was used to make parts of the story more compelling here and in other films; it is common, so “being based on a true story” doesn’t always restrict a screenplay or the film maker. But if the character was only marginal then good on them for being faithful!
        Either way Shannon did a top job as you would expect from a top, top actor – “kneel” before him!

      • The title is so misleading, and the poor marketing didn’t help either, making this more like a Rambo movie. The studio really did a disservice to this film, which is too bad as it’s got such a great message and compelling story.

      • I agree, worst title for a movie ever in terms of mis-selling it and well…it just sounds awful! I was put off by the title alone for sometime and I may have missed it if I had not took a punt on it this week. Glad I did!

      • WOW, so I wonder if there ARE people out there who actually dismiss this one right away just because of the title!! Man, if only the filmmakers knew about that. It’s too bad really, as that’s actually the nickname the real Sam Childers got, but yeah, too sensational for a film title when it’s really more about redemption, not blowing stuff up!!

      • Yeh, it’s a terrible title and I know it’s probably the one Childers endorsed.
        Should do a post on the worst/most misleading titles ever?

  2. “…sublimely mixing class with chiseled awesomeness” I LOVE that! I’m glad you give this film a chance and spread the positive words around to encourage more people to see this. I realize that the *transformation* may feel a bit too quick, but as someone who has seen people’s lives being turned around when touched by God, it is not implausible. I agree that Butler owned this film, his performance is moving and heart-wrenching. I like the friendship between him and Deng (Souleymane Sy Savane) and the scenes with the children brought tears to my eyes. I saw this at a local film fest and there was barely a dry set of eyes at the end of the screening.

    P.S. I upvoted this on Reddit 😀

    • Ha, excellent, I like my little one liners and stuff!
      I agree. It is very plausible to me that such a turnaround is possible; I just think they could have devoted more screen time to it, just felt a little imbalanced to the rest of the film.
      I realise I made no mention of Deng, but my writers block has really caused me issues this week, but it was indeed a great friend dynamic.
      I noticed your comment on Reddit and I have upvoted a review of yours, your twitter share was very generous too, glad you liked my review.
      and yes…the butler can do it! more Gerald please!

      • Yeah, I think you’re right the film could have devoted more screen time to the conversion, the pacing seems a bit off at times. I feel like the filmmakers *need* to balance the spiritual message w/ the more bad ass scenes to please the audience or something. For me, Sam’s change of heart that DROVE him to do what he did is the most compelling part of the whole story.

        Glad you gave this a positive review Kevin, I saw your review link on Reddit and as soon as I saw your name I upvoted it right away. I’m actually going to include this film into my Easter redeeming films list this weekend, so talk about perfect timing! Hope you check that out 😀

      • It is definitely redeeming and a nice way to get it into easter – very nice.
        As a balanced film with a 2 hour run, a hour of conversion and set up for the second hour of redemption, it mostly did that just the first twenty minutes were so so.
        Either way it was good and I am more than happy to champion it.
        Glad you upvoted and came around to comment and like here, much appreciated.
        I will check it out, if I miss it give me prod!

  3. I put this movie in my Queue and just forgot about it. Good review. I’ll look for it and move it up so I can watch it soon. Thanks!

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