wogma rating: Watch if you have nothing better to do (?)
In Machine Gun Preacher, everything happens too easily. We aren’t given time to digest a psycho Gerard Butler rechristening himself as a savior of the Sudenese Orphans. We aren’t given enough time to attach ourselves to the happenings in the film – and it’s not because this is a fast- paced film. Screenwriter Jason Keller and director Marc Forster (Monster Ball and Quantum of Solace) make a conscious effort to not pass a judgment with the film but it lacks in its basic convincing powers.Read more
There’s nothing like a movie that jolts you out of your groove. A story about a man who is everything evil, who mends his ways because there’s too much wrong in the world anyway. Throw in a religious revelation and a testosterone-spewing conflict filled journey and you’ll have a “gripping” drama. Fortunately for Machine Gun Preacher everything seems like it’s on the right track – Gerard Butler , a post-colonialist debate, a character graph and a title that seems like it’s been leaked from a graphic novel.
Machine Gun Preacher is based on the real life story of Sam Childers (played by Gerard Butler in the film) who starts off as a violent, ex-con with a heavy dependency on alcohol and drugs. He and his similarly placed pal Donnie (Michael Shannon) are a couple of pit stops away from hell, you are told. Before you can swallow, Butler manages to turn his ways as he discovers Christianity. The good thing is Forster doesn’t expect you to share the same beliefs.
He decides he must relocate to Africa for missionary work, after building a (clean) successful construction business. While Butler is blue-collaring up, Uganda and Sudan call out to him much like a prayer. Forgive my tone, but it's the exact same feeling one gets while watching the film. The film barely takes any time to establish his sudden transformation to a nice guy, let alone a really nice guy with a soul. It slowly then, transcends into an unbelievable film, and a story that isn’t narrated very well.
A quick note about the scenes in Uganda and Sudan: the visual description is heart-wrenching. Through the course of the film he becomes sort of a holy warrior for the Sudanese orphans, saving them from the internal system. There, Machine Gun Preacher gets a bunch of brownie points, for making the audience want to consider leaving their own cushioned lives for the betterment of the world. Or at least feel horrible about being privileged.
Gerard Butler gives a stimulating performance, but a confusing one. He’s tough, alright. You’re afraid of him when he’s a violent no-gooder and you want to applaud him for having the nerve to uproot his life – but you cannot, for the life of you, move beyond how he reaches to such situations.
I’ve not read the book that this movie is based on (Childers’ memoir Another Man’s War) but the film adaption is just too easy. It waters down every other effort that the film makes to create, a visually gripping account of what happens when an eccentric character enters a world that is blocked out.
The biggest flaw though, is in Machine Gun Preacher fundamentally conveying through the film that it takes a White American man, in all his power to kill in the name of god, so the “oppressed” can see a better life. That is if we get down to analyzing the message of the film. Marc Forster ceases to bend towards a judgment but you can see it in Butler’s demeanor.
The film leaves a lot unsaid, and this is a thought that might be considered unnecessary. My question is – couldn’t we have done without the politics? Butler needn’t have had to move from a psychopath to a half-saint. He could have been a regular guy with a genuine will to help – somehow, in the film you can’t decipher if he’s helping or assuming a high role of power to massage his own ego.
You could watch the film for Butler’s performance – just don’t attempt to answer the question marks in your head.
This review is by guest reviewer Swetha Ramakrishnan. Swetha Ramakrishnan is currently living and working in Mumbai. She's a self-confessed film enthusiast and can most likely be found talking to anyone and everyone about popular cinema and her love for SRK. Swetha Ramakrishnan also blogs at http://swetharamakrishnan.blogspot.com/.
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