Machine Gun Preacher
In my opinion…
Running Time: 129 minutes
Classification: MA 15+
Music by: Asche & Spencer
Questions. This movie is full of questions. They’re good questions—but they’re deep and disturbing and a little dark. Usually, when I sit down to watch a movie, I’m already writing the review in my head. But, watching Machine Gun Preacher, all the words in my head packed their bags and left. I just sat there. Watching. The questions tumbled in. And the big one, the burning question? Is it ever right to kill someone?
That question isn’t the essence of the movie. No way. But it’s there, bold and black and ugly. I like it how the movie portrays so much—war and anger and bloodshed and hopelessness and abhorrent cruelty—and at the end of it you don’t want to throw away the curly questions with a simple black-and-white answer. You want to think about them. That’s what this movie did to me. It made me think.
I’ll say now, it’s a graphic movie. The foul-language and violence level is high. You may label it a “Christian movie”, but I wouldn’t watch it so lightly. It’s been made to appeal to a wide audience, so we’re shown the dark life of our protagonist, Sam Childers, right up front. Details aren’t spared. But that’s only the beginning…roll in Africa. This part made me cry. Really.
The movie is set in Sudan, a war-zone. The LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army; exactly the opposite of what the name brings to mind—these are the bad guys) are attacking villages. Burning. Murdering. Pillaging. They kill without thought, without question, without reason. The whole country is being torn apart during the movie and the cruelty of it all makes you sick. If you have a wild imagination, like me, the movie’s doubly real. And the worst part? This is based on the true story of Sam Childers. True story. So we see the war, we see the bombs and the explosions and the horror and terror of the innocent people. And we understand how a person like Sam Childers can go in there and help, see his work fall apart, and then spiral down into an angry, bitter man. We understand and it hurts.
The movie keeps you riveted to your chair. The cinematography is excellent. The details are flawless. You can see, smell and even taste Sudan by the end of it—even if all you get is the visuals on a screen. The story leaps out at you. The acting is superb, filled with real and gritty characters, without any magic shine to them.
The Christian bent is certainly there, but weak at the best of times. The swearing at the beginning is head-splitting, and it doesn’t disappear altogether, though I promise it tones down considerably as the film progresses. After Sam Childers nearly murders someone, he lets his wife (a newly converted Christian herself) take him to church. At church, Sam fights against the conviction, but the Lord wins out and Sam goes up the front to be saved. We see (what feels like straight-away) Sam getting baptized and I felt like the slant was baptism being part of the salvation process. It’s not. But the change in Sam’s life is obvious and miraculous and I think the movie did that part justice.
Then there are the questions, the circumstances, the themes. Sam’s in Sudan, where the LRA are murdering everyone—women, children, men. He has to go from desolate horror back to his home in a free country with all the modern convinces. You can visibly see him struggling with that all throughout the film. How can we live in such comfort when people over there are dying? They’ve had their limbs blown off, they’re starving, they’re terrified. And his family just don’t understand—and how can they? They’re not in Sudan. They’re in the comfy western-world. Then, as Sam ends up spending more and more time in Sudan, you can see him losing his family. His daughter barely knows him. His wife understands his vision, but she never sees her husband. Is it right to sacrifice your family for the mission field? Doesn’t God come first? But how important is your family?
Then: is it ever right to kill someone? (Excuse me, while I devote a whole paragraph to this.) The answer should be—no—right? The Bible clearly says, do not kill. (Though, I might add here, a lot of the Old Testament is spent in the kings, through God’s power, defeating the enemies of the Lord.) Sam Childers is in Sudan watching helpless children be left orphans while their parents are brutally murdered. He builds an orphanage. He wants to protect those kids. And what happens? The LRA come after him, because, as he says in the film, he “must be doing something right”. So should Sam stand by while the LRA come in a shoot everyone? Or should Sam pick up his machine gun (and he’s actually quite familiar and handy with guns) and fight back? Can you fight fire with fire? Or should you sit back and die? How many do you kill before you cross the line?
This movie leaves you jam packed with intensive and disturbing thoughts. There’s no escaping them. I know it really moved me. I would rate this movie as a 5-star, except for the swearing. It’s amazingly done, filled to the brim with thought and emotion. You leave with tears in your eyes and a turmoil of questions you never thought you’d have rolling inside your head.
A truly excellent movie.