Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Machine Gun Preacher

2011. Dir: Marc Forster. Starring: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon, Madeline Carroll and Souleymane Sy Savane. ●●○○○

I don't know where to start. There is so much wrong with Hollywood's latest over-simplification of African politics and neo-colonialism, Machine Gun Preacher, that any beginning will reduce the film to a mass of critical detritus. We could castigate the incoherent acting, the dumbed down screenplay or the thud, thud, thud pacing, and yet I feel it justifies a second blob, one for existing (no film ever deserves nothing) and one for trying to raise interesting areas for discussion, even if ultimately it fails to deliver on that promise.

On one level this is a simple sinner to saint story about a Heroin addicted Hell's angel finding God and going to Northern Uganda to build an orphanage to save the children in war-torn Somalia. Indeed I suspect the life story of Sam Childer's, the man who is literally dubbed the machine gun Preacher in West Africa is a fascinating study of redemption and ambition, but here the format is squeezed into a greatest hots montage of his life. We see him get released from jail, get angry because his wife gave up stripping, shoot up, stab a hitchhiker, go to church, get baptised, see a video about Africa, get caught up in a war, and so on. Each little vignette fails to connect with each other, his Christian zeal must come from something but we never understand what drives him to seek forgiveness, it's as if just by telling the story the audience should know how the man progresses to the next chapter of his life.

It's hard to know where the blame for this lies. I'd be tempted to say it's Gerard Butler, who switches to his usual shouty mode very early on in the movie and rarely changes gear - even when crying it's an obscenely angry form of depression. However he's not the only lost in this movie, the usually reliable Monaghan comes across as a mere cypher, failing to illuminated the long-sufffering wife and even Michael Shannon as fellow addict Donnie looks lost for most of the movie.

No I blame the script, which pushes forward into each scene without developing the characters in any meaningful way. I cannot say enough how much I wanted to understand the motivations of Childer's, especially as the presumed guilt and anger at the situation in Somalia begins to tip him towards the kind of violent fundamentalism he initially tries to reject. Not to mention several really horrid lines that completely took me out of the picture - when Childer's talks about keeping guns clean, the boy confessing his history out of the blue, when Paige (Butler's daughter) looking every inch a 15 year old asks Michael Shannon for a goodnight kiss (an incredibly creepy sequence that probably shouldn't have come across like that).

As I said there should have been so much more to this movie. At times the spectre of the Christian right's zealousness is noted, and the White America's colonialist tendencies is hinted at but these themes are never developed, essentially blunting any impact the movie actually may have.

Overall I would have to say this is a dull, missable film. I suggest picking up a copy of a fairly intelligent broadsheet, turning to the international news section and starting the conversation that way.

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