By: Henry J. Fromage (Five Beers) –
If you’re somehow unaware of the Joseph Kony cause/Youtube sensation, then I have some Internet tubes to sell you. I also do installation at competitive rates- and I’m reachable via telephone, fax, and carrier pigeon.
The bigger the tube, the more internet you get
Almost a year ago Machine Gun Preacher was released with much the same aim- publicize the horrors Kony and his Lords Resistance Army were perpetrating in Uganda and Sudan, while also telling the story of one man who’s fighting to make a difference. Gerardo Butler plays Sam Childers, a hardened biker type and ex-con who finds the Lord and sets up a ministry. When he learns of the plight of Kony’s victims, he travels to Africa to help where he can, and finds himself drawn to protect the children with any means necessary.
Butler and his trusty rocket launcher, “Any means necessary”
The worth of the cause is undisputable, even as there are many concerns with certain strategies to go about it. The film itself underscores the urgency of this with powerful images that are as difficult to witness as they are to deny.
The director, Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace) adds some nice touches to his generally conventional handling of the material, and the always great Michael Shannon andButler do their level best with a script that doesn’t give them a lot of help. The film more than anything convinced me thatButler has some real acting chops, and could shine in the right role.
The brunt of my toast, though, has to go to the fact that Butler’s default solution to any problem is ‘shotgun.’ Nothing about that is anything less than awesome. You need to retrieve your friend from a junkie flophouse? Shotgun. Save a convoy of children? Shotgun. Tornado? Shotgun. No, really.
He goes at it like there’s a feral Russell Crowe down there.
When I said, “generally conventional handling” earlier, I meant it. You’ve seen a lot of these shots and scenes in a hundred other criminal redemption stories, which saps their effect. The actors do their best, but the script is pretty damn intent on turning all of the supporting roles into stereotypes.
The script also does a poor job revealingButler’s decision-making process. Pretty much everything he does happens on an apparent whim, with no support given to let the audience know why. Particularly jarring is his religious conversion moment, which is less “Touched By An Angel” and more “Vagrant Death Struggle.”
You’d think having to sit through a munchkin rendition of “Amazing Grace” would provoke more hobo stabbing, not less
Some of the creative decisions in this film are head-scratching. Butler’s performance is good, but it’s hard to tell why he attempts the accent he does. I wasn’t aware Pennsylvanians had a particularly strong one, and by the time Butler gets done mangling his it comes out a cross between Texan and Old-Timey Prospector. Also, wires got crossed somewhere in casting his daughter. Madeline Carroll, was at the youngest 14, when this was shot, which makes scenes in which she gets tucked in at night, or request a bedtime story or kiss… interesting.
The principal issue with the film, though, is the very concept. Anyone who’s even slept in the same room as a Gideon Bible should know that ‘Machine Gun Preacher’ should be an oxymoron on the level of ‘Crack Addict Pediatrician.’ After the credits, a real-life Childers brings up the point that if your child was abducted, would you question the methods used to bring them home? It’s a good one, but does that give us leave to then glorify those same methods?
I think I just found Showtime’s next pilot
The cause is just and worthwhile, but the film is somewhat less. Unless Gerard Butler + Shotgun is all you need, in which case you should go for it.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every timeButler uses a weapon to solve his problems
Take a Drink: every time a child does something (ostensibly) heartwarming
Drink a Shot: whenever a child dies (per occurrence, unless you’re immune to alcohol poisoning)
Stick around through the credits for an interesting look at the real people this was based on and their work.