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machine-gun-preacher-poster“Machine Gun Preacher” is set in a world where the line between mercenary and humanitarian is very thin. Gerard Butler plays the title character, a man who preaches fire-and-brimstone and can shoot the tail feathers off an ostrich at fifty yards.

When we first meet Sam Childers (Butler) he’s a tough guy fresh out of jail. He finds that old habits die hard—especially old drug habits. When his hell raising ways catch up to him something remarkable happens; he finds God. The former biker shifts gears and becomes a model citizen, even funding and building his own church. A sermon about the plight of Sudanese children prompts him to become a crusader for thousands of orphaned African children. He earns a reputation as a gun toting savior but his faith is severely tested when all his efforts to save the children seem to be for naught.

“Machine Gun Preacher” is based on the real life story of Sam Childers, a former trigger-happy biker who founded the Angels of East Africa orphanage. It’s a very compelling story, almost in the territory of stranger than fiction, but this fellow’s colorful life hits a few rocky patches in its translation to the screen.

In an effort to hit all high points of Childers’s life director Marc “Monster’s Ball” Forster speeds through the early part of the story, the transformation from hellion to angel, very quickly. The conversion is a crucial plot point and if we don’t buy into it we’ll have a hard time being on side for the rest of the story.

The rest of the movie skips and jumps around as well, as though it was cut down from a much longer movie. Luckily it moves along at such a clip that the strange blend of revenge and religion is never given the chance to settle for too long. That’s a good thing because it’s an uncomfortable mix. One minute he’s preaching, the next he’s gunning down Sudanese rebels. He’s Rambo with a bible.

The movie is inspirational and shines a light on some poignant issues, but feels more movie-of-the-week than serious drama about a man’s transformation.

Butler brings some intensity to the role, but Michael Shannon and Michelle Monaghan, as the junkie biker who learns to walk a different path and the born again ex-junkie stripper wife respectively, are wasted in roles that give them little to do.

“Machine Gun Preacher” suffers from playing fast and loose with the events that lead up to the story’s main thrust—one man’s ability to change not only his life, but the lives of people around him—and as a result the transformation doesn’t have the impact it should.

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