Hot off crafting the dullest Bond movie (Quantum of Solace), director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball) has now made the least interesting film possible out of a movie called Machine Gun Preacher. The grindhouse-y title couldn’t be more inappropriate, with a subject—the real-life exploits of Sam Childers, ex-con-turned-arms-toting savior to Sudanese orphans—both grave and peppered with gratuitous close-ups of unspeakable atrocities.
Gerard Butler is ideally cast, if that’s the word, as a hyper-emotional hothead introduced screaming at his curiously hot wife (Michelle Monaghan) because she retired from stripping. After near-fatally stabbing a hitchhiker—while high on a stash stolen at gunpoint from drug dealers—he goes born again. His newfound holiness leads him to Sudan where, upon growing hip to the atrocities being committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army, he becomes Oskar Schindler with a bazooka, personally funding—and sometimes bloodily defending—an orphanage on the other side of the world. His mercenary antics inspire talkings-to from a doctor-without-borders, who of course is not only a woman but British, yet he remains steadfast in fighting evil with evil, asserting that seeking peace is a “waste of time.”
What to make of this heroic blowhard? Having not read Childers’ memoir (more calmly named Another Man’s War), I can only go off the movie, and it’s never clear what Forster & co. think, either. They seem impressed by his courage and mesmerized by his passion, but unsure what to do when he turns, as he increasingly does, to crazy-eyed rage. As his mission in Sudan begins to erode his family life, Childers regresses to his former self, the strong suggestion being that he’s the same dangerous monster, only now for good.
Jason Keller’s script never develops this idea, just as it never believably depicts Childers going Paul Kersey on soldiers in a war zone; there’s talk of a bounty on his head, but his reckless actions never produce serious blowback, at least that we see. Childers’ story has no ending, and neither does this part-hagiography. Machine Gun Preacher finds the flimsiest excuse for closure then rolls the final scrawl, ensuring that being just another film in which awesome white people save helpless black people is the least of its problems.