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Machine Gun Preacher (2011): My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?

[once again playing catch-up after a crazy day…]

Machine Gun Preacher (Marc Forster, 2011)

Gerard Butler, framed by a cross, strikes a contemplative pose on the movie poster.

photo credit: Wikipedia

Marc Forster directed Quantum of Solace, to date my least favorite James Bond movie. Still, even that did not prepare me for the jaw-dropping idiocy that was Machine Gun Preacher. Even better, checking Forster’s IMDB page shows that as of this writing he’s also got a TV movie called Hand of God in pre-production. Two questions immediately come to mind. 1. When did Marc Forster find Jay-zus? (And how, if he has, was he enticed to direct the decidedly non-evangelical World War Z between the two?) 2. What in the flying hell possessed him to go back to the most ridiculous excesses of eighties-era evangelical film, rather than following farther down the road taken by more recent Christian filmmakers like Robby Henson (Thr3e) and Rafal Zielinski (Hangman’s Curse)? Because those guys are making movies that are at least bearable even if you’re a non-Christian. This is fund-raising, altar-call claptrap that has all the sincerity of The Cross and the Switchblade without any of the talent—which is pretty impressive given Forster behind the camera and the roster he put in front of it. Coriolanus aside, I should know better than to watch anything with Gerard Butler’s name on it.

Butler brandishes a shotgun in a still from the film.

“Now, look down the barrel and tell me again you think I’m Robert Englund.”
photo credit:

Plot: as we open, Sam Childers (Butler) is a biker. He’s being released from prison and on his way home. When he gets there, he finds that his wife Lynn (Gone Baby Gone‘s Michelle Monaghan) has gotten religion, and has the expected reaction—heading out to the usual bar to meet up with his old friend Donnie (Take Shelter‘s Michael Shannon) to do some drinking and drugging. As expected, Sam has his own come-to-Jesus moment not long after, and not only gets himself into the church, but pulls Donnie out of the life too, hallelujah and amen. Fast-forwarding through the slow bits, Childers is inspired by a preacher who comes to his church to go over to Uganda and do a bit of carpentry work. While he’s there, he befriends Deng (Keep the Lights On‘s Souleymane Sy Savane), a Sudanese Liberation Army member who acquiesces to Childers’ request to go “see some country”, taking him into war-torn south Sudan, where warlord Joseph Kony holds sway. As is the case with such things, Childers is inspired to set up shop in Sudan, building a church and an orphanage there, all the while seeming to not realize that the addiction that previously drove him to his drinking and drug excesses has simply found new roots in service.

The family shares a tender moment in a still from the film.

Inspirational movie rule of thumb #72: family drama must always end in reconciliation.
photo credit:

I will give the movie one thing: Forster and screenwriter Jason Keller (Escape Plan) never once flinch from portraying Childers as not a great guy, and when his devotion to service hits the same bottom as his last hellraising with Donnie, Butler portrays Childers as a true monster; it’s the only time I’ve seen him on a screen other than in Coriolanus where I’ve been impressed with his acting abilities. (IMDB’s trivia section notes that Childers uses the film as a fundraising tool on his speaking tours. They also note that the version shown in churches is “heavily edited”. One wonders how much of the editing has to do with the language and how much with the darker parts of Childers’ character as portrayed by Butler.) The problem is that while the movie goes to great lengths to portray itself as one of those newfangled Thr3e-style movies that’s “edgier” than the stuff turned out by the Kirk Cameron patrol (and before), this is a case of the script following the letter of the law, not the spirit. This is as Old Time Gospel-y as any of those horrible movies I used to see in the lobby of the Assemblies of God church I attended in the mid-eighties, just with added violence and some cursin’. Simply put: this is terrible. *


About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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