An able-bodied Gerard Butler headlines this rough-and-ready fact-based crusading story that may need some shrewd marketing to reach an audience.
Machine Gun Preacher, costarring Michael Shannon and Michelle Monaghan, lurches from rabid racy interludes to spiritual earnestness as it moves from Pennsylvania to East Africa's Sudan.
For a while there may be something to savor here after a violent, trashy opening as we get the sense of what the real Sam Childers was like, a nasty, ex-con, addled construction worker. It appears to be the right kind of character type that Butler (also an executive producer) can flex his muscle around. Sam will begin his unconventional tract against tears after choice meetings with Mother Nature (timely considering the recent havoc from Irene) and a wounded alcoholic.
There is ample opportunity for a kind of manic introspection for a man who spiritually rehabilitates himself by forming a local congregation to help meet his goal of making an orphanage for ravaged victims of an ongoing civil war. He isn't that nice to his wife Lynn (Monaghan of Due Date) when finishing his time revealing more than a little psychological instability.
Of course, the Sudanese refer to him as an African Rambo, a mighty missionary man dealing with his own beliefs and his wishy-washy followers in his familial disconnect while trying to lead lots of adorable youth to safety (malnutrition and starvation is also rampant in the Somalia/Kenya/Ethiopia area of East Africa which folks like Dr. Jill Biden is pledging to reverse).
What director Marc Forester (Quantum of Solace) produces from Jason Keller's disjointed screenplay is desultory, moody drama, alternately picturesque with horrific aftermaths, kicked into motion by Butler's aggressiveness into a potentially bold personal story.
Monaghan does the long-suffering misses well enough, and an increasing ubiquitous Shannon offers a fey sensitivity to Sam's old checkered-past bug-eyed buddy. Souleymane Sy Savane (so good in Goodbye Solo) is effective as Deng who lends support to Childers's cause. Some scenes appear to be loaded for more crucial impact while others aren't as telegraphed as they seem. And, the conclusion allows for more of a thoughtful ambiguity than expected.
Maybe this less glossy, straightforward excursion through atrocities should have played its hand more delicately with more expository passages, but it's a gamey role for Butler (still best known for 300) in an unsanitized habitat where there are many forks in a saintly road.
|Machine Gun Preacher||B-||B-|