My roommate and I are both movie-nuts. At least once a week, we’ll make a bag of popcorn, enjoy a beer and watch a film. As a film major, I have seen hundreds (if not thousands) of films and I generally find my roommate’s fascination with sci-fi flicks hysterical. One night, however, he suggested the bizarrely named Machine Gun Preacher. I’ve been trying to pick my jaw back up off the floor ever since.
The film came out in 2011 and earned mixed-poor reviews from critics (Metacritic compiled a 43/100 score). Unfortunately, the $30 million budget was met with a pathetic $1.1 million dollar box office return. Given the film’s Christian message, I’m not too shocked.
In my opinion, the film deserves an A- for its realistic depictions of war-torn Uganda, disturbingly human moral dilemmas and cinematography. The story is based on the real life of Sam Childers. Without spoiling the film, I will give you a brief synopsis:
Sam Childers leaves prison and returns to his wife and child. Sam, a heroin abuser and drunk, quickly falls back into his old way of life: a biker and gang-member. Sam’s wife is a recent Christian convert and Sam scoffs at her quitting smoking and going to church. The film implies domestic abuse and shows a completely dysfunctional household. After several traumatizing and violent encounters, Sam begs his wife to help him.
Sam is baptized a Christian and becomes an outstanding family man overtime. He becomes a successful construction worker and eventually starts his own company. The family enjoys a comfortable lifestyle and Sam eventually reaches a deeper epiphany: Christians are called to do more than live comfortably and go to church once a week. Sam begins a series of visits to Uganda where he builds an orphanage to save children from the clutches of the LRA army. Sam fights alongside the SPLA to eliminate LRA soldiers and on many occasions, Sam kills many LRA monsters. His prowess in combat makes him a militant leader amongst the SPLA and Sam is able to continue to protect and save countless children.
Sam eventually founds his own church back home and begins preaching to his family, friends and neighbors about living a “crazy-love” form of Christianity. He preaches donating large portions of one’s own money and doing radical acts of love. Sam becomes more and more infuriated when his wealthy friends and acquaintances approve his goal in Uganda but refuse to help and donate. The film has an open ending which I will not disclose here, and there is an entirely separate story of one child soldier being forced to kill his own mother (the beginning of the film).
This film sincerely moved me. It challenges Christians to actively live the Gospel. It calls us to serve way above and beyond our comfort zones and to even put our lives in danger if necessary. Sam Childers is portrayed as a flawed hero: just as every human saint is. We are all sinners, but that does not mean we cannot convert and rely on God to do miraculous things.
It would be wrong of me to not give this disclaimer: the film is rated R for just about everything you can think of. There is one brief sex scene between Sam and his wife (it isn’t very graphic), lots of profanity, extremely graphic gore, and graphic drug use (to the point of suicide). Personally, given the beautiful messages of Machine Gun Preacher, I would recommend this film for kids 16+ with parents watching alongside. The violence includes a woman having her lips cutoff, a child being dismembered from a landmine, and intense/realistic gunfights. That being said, view with discretion.
As a film, Machine Gun Preacher excels in its shooting style, music usage and presentation. The sets are beautiful, the characters are believable, and Gerard Butler gives an incredibly raw performance. Even if the film did not have a moral and emotional pull, I would still be impressed with this film as a secular film.
Storytelling/Character Development: 9
Christian/Freedom Messages: 10
If you would like to learn more about Sam Childer’s message, please check out his own website.
Here is the film’s trailer: