Contributed By Joshua Chang
Be prepared to question your own ideas of right and wrong as you watch this action biopic on the life of reformed convict-turned-preacher-turned-freedom fighter Sam Childers (Gerard Butler). After his release from prison, Childers finds God at a church meeting. Slowly, he picks up his life and starts a successful construction business. Inspired by a visiting pastor, he makes a trip to Uganda to volunteer for a construction project, but a brush with brutality at the hands of the militant group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army in war-torn Sudan ignites his sense of justice to fight for the oppressed. Even as he starts a local church at home, he starts making long-term plans construction of an orphanage and staging of rescue missions.
It’s a painful, graphic watch, with children’s limbs blown off when they step onto mines, a woman’s lips cut off for arguing with the rebels, and orphans tortured into becoming child soldiers. When the rebels burn down Childers’ first building project, he contemplates giving up but is cheered on by his faithful wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), and his dream eventually materializes.
However, after an incident in which a logistical decision results in the brutal deaths of 25 children, he channels his guilt into an obsessive dedication to his cause, leading to a downward spiral and alienation from his family, close friend and ultimately, God.
Directed by The Kite Runner’s Marc Forster, Machine Gun Preacher is highly effective in toying with the Christian viewer’s spiritual compass. Just when you have decided to write Childers off for fighting evil with evil, you question if you would not pull the trigger at a militant rebel who is about to put a bullet through the skull of an innocent three-year-old.
As the final credits roll, cameo footage of the real Childers is shown. Of course, he’s plumper, older and less handsome than Butler, but oozes charismatic presence nevertheless. To viewers who struggle with the ethics of Childer’s ministry, he asks, “If your wife or daughter was kidnapped, and if I came to you and told you that I could help you get back your wife or daughter, does it matter how I do it?” Rich material indeed for post-screening discussion.