Friday, October 14, 2011

"Machine Gun Preacher": Gerard Butler plays wild man out to save the souls of the world (Sudan, at least)

Gerard Butler has appeared on Piers Morgan with his new, trim bod at 41. Butler certainly plays the part of the psychologically masculine, hypermanic “man of action” (and, oh, so restless) “Machine Gun Preacher”,  that is, Sam Childers. a former drug dealer, saved and baptized in Christ, who takes on the mission of saving Sudanese children.  (No, I can't picture Ryan Gosling in this role, even after crushing everyone in his last two movies; Butler is the right choice.)

The film, directed by Marc Forster, moves too quickly, despite its 2+ hours length, with Childers impulsively jumping back and forth over 6000 mile journeys as if they were commutes.  (Other films about humanitarian missions have generally moved a little more deliberately.)  Yet, the scenes of the abused villagers and children, many “drafted” by rebel armies from the north, are among the most harrowing in cinema.

The early part of the film has a harrowing sequence where a tornado, rare for the Alleghenies in Pennsylvania, devastates the mobile home park where he lives and where he uses his shotgun to clear the way for his family to “take shelter” beneath it. (Prescient of another film? By accident only.)   The storm provides his roofing business a lot of income, and soon he has a home. After a sermon about service (echoes of Jimmy Carter in the 1990s, one sermon at First Baptist in Washington DC in particular, in connection with Habitat for Humanity), he takes the challenge to go save kids, even at the risk of neglecting his own.

He lands in northern Uganda.  The other guys want to go to Kampala “to look around” but he’s already into his mission, to go north.  The film does not mention the controversy in Uganda over draconian anti-gay laws proposed there, based on the theory that gays won’t continue family lines – as if a society there were worth preserving (Oh, I know, who am I to be insular enough to even thinking of passing such a judgment!)

In souther Sudan,  he builds his church, only to have it torched. Villages (Christians) are under constant threat of raids from “rebels”.  His wife (Michelle Monaghan) at first supports, even pushes him, but then tries to draw him back. Gradually, he turns soldier, to the point that a female British correspondent calls him mercenary, after earlier he is accused of being there as a professional tourist.  The battle scenes, while brief, remind one of “Hurt Locker”. 

Here is the official site.  The film is distributed by Relativity Media, often a production company, usually associated with Rogue Pictures  (“Catfish”, “Skyline”) by having purchased it, and related "upstream" with both Sony and Universal.  The film was a hit at the Toronto Film Festival.  The on-location filming overseas was done in South Africa by South African production companies. 

Here's a MaximoTV YouTube video of a Butler appearance.

In the closing credits, the "real" Childers says, "if you have a child, or a sister or brother, and I save them, do you care how I did it?" I have none of these. Of course, he poses a moral question.  If you don't have your own children or families to save, should one be "assigned to you"?  

Compare this film to “In a Better World” (April 12, 2011 review).  See Sept. 12, 2007 on this blog for reviews of Darfur-related films.

Still photos here are mine (from in and around Johnston PA, near location of story  -- Central City PA -- in film), from 2007. 

Since there’s a tornado in the film, I’ll add a weather channel video of the inside of a tornado crossing I-95 in Virginia: link (embed doesn't work). 

Update: Oct. 27

I happened to visit Central City, PA today on the way to the 9/11 Flight 93 Memorial.  I think I did pass a small Assembly of God church, not sure if this is the right one.  The town offers quite spectacular Allegheny scenery from the heights.
Here's an interesting church there, probably not the right one:
Here's another video, with the real Childers talking about "His Place", on DayStar, link.  

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