There’s a saying along the lines of: “I complained about walking around with no shoes until I met the man who had no feet.” The gist is that although you think you’ve got it bad, there are those who have it worse.
Take the plight of the African people of southern Sudan and northern Uganda. In Machine Gun Preacher, a true story, Chris Childers (played by Gerard Butler) decides to build up a church and an orphanage for the parentless children of the region. These children, usually escaped, former forced soldiers of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), have watched their homes burned to the ground and their parents murdered.
In Jason Keller’s script we find a man, Sam, who is a rotten criminal. So rotten, that he mercilessly kills a man and steals money and drugs all in the same night. Just when the audience is scratching their heads to know how this ruthless criminal will become a preacher, Keller brings in the only people who can get through to Sam: his wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), his mother Daisy (Kathy Baker), and his daughter Paige (Madeline Carroll).
Marc Forster, as director, takes Keller’s script and unflinchingly looks at what life is really like for the Sudanese people who are terrorized by the LRA under the command of Joseph Kony, who claims to be fighting according to the Ten Commandments. For the purpose of the film, Keller does not delve too deeply into who Kony is. Why give publicity to a monster who sanctions things like having a woman’s lips cut off for talking back to him and allowing his soldiers to kidnap young girls for rape or sex slaves?
The first scene is Machine Gun Preacher’s most powerful. We begin in the middle of the story with a village attacked by a sect of the LRA. Men, women and children are dragged from their huts kicking and screaming. Some of them are killed for daring to run or cry over a fallen loved one. And then one little boy, William (Junior Magale) is forced to kill his own mother to save himself and his brother.
How can a man who calls himself a Christian and believes in the Ten Commandments order such a thing? Keller does not address this question, as this is about Sam. Sam’s mission is to
provide a safe place for orphaned children to live. One of the ways Sam provides this safe place is to kill anyone who tries to harm him or the children. Thus the major question of the film: What makes Sam better than the terrorist leader of the LRA?
Forster has the real Sam ask the audience a question: If someone invaded your home, kidnapped your child and I brought your child back to you, would you care how I came to bring your child back? It’s a powerfully loaded question, one that as a non-parent I will not answer except to say: If what you are doing is harming innocent people, it’s probably wrong.
Even though this is Butler’s film all the way, and he does tremendously well as the stubborn and protective Machine Gun Preacher, another actor stole all of his scenes: Magale. He is quiet for most of the film, conveying all of his emotions through his facial expressions. His face, scarred from the beginning of the film, still holds a child’s innocence, showing that, even though William has had to endure adult traumas, he still maintains his childlike simplicity.
It’s easy to complain about little things; we all do it. But it takes a film like Machine Gun Preacher to help some of us understand that there are things in this world far worse than anything we can complain about. A valuable lesson from little William: There is evil in the world all around, but we must never let it take control of our hearts, because most of us in our hearts are good people: Even a preacher toting a machine gun.
Photo: Ilze Kitshoff/2011 MGP Productions, LLC
Gerard Butler stars as “Sam Childers,” the savior of hundreds of kidnapped and orphaned children, who leads armed missions deep into East African enemy territory in Machine Gun Preacher.