Cast: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon
Director: Marc Forster
Rating: ****(4 out of 5)
Often we see such bad things that it shakes us strongly. But we turn our backs convincing ourselves that it is someone else’s problem. “Machine Gun Preacher” is a true story of a ‘sinner’ who refused to walk away after his eyes were opened and thus changed things.
After realising the error of his ways, drug peddler Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) turns to Jesus and sorts himself out. A few years later on a trip to Sudan, he is appalled by killings that leave thousands orphaned. He tries to help. When his honest attempts are thwarted, he refuses to give up and picks up a gun.
Guns hiding behind Bibles and Korans have made the world a dangerous place. Director Marc Forster thankfully refuses to lose his way in the rhetoric of Christianity to create a compelling, believable drama which focuses on an individual and what he can do to change things.
He paints the transformation of a man and provides those who want to help a template for their own transformation and for bringing change in the world.
We often encounter big problems. Sadly, we get so overwhelmed by their enormity that we don’t even attempt change. After all, how much can you do? Sam Childers answers this question: do whatever little you can. But, do it.
In a scene that can be easily missed, Sam sees a lot of kids sleeping on the ground outside and tries to take them to his room. When reminded that he can’t take all, he says he will take as many as he can. All the problems of the world can be solved if all of us could cultivate this attitude – help and do as much you can.
The larger problems of humanity can make for compelling drama. Yet, most creators of art, cinema and literature choose not to even attempt it. They run after little pointless stories with beautiful but often useless metaphors. “Machine Gun Preacher”, an action film in the typical Hollywood mould that also packs in a caring heart with good writing and direction, gives such films a tight slap.
Hence, besides writer Jason Keller and the director, credit also goes to people like producer Gerard Butler to have believed in a story that needed to be told and for saying it the way it is. That it is true, helps to reinforce the urgency of action.
The film has an even pace and builds the transformation of Sam very well. Yet, where it scores over many others in the genre, is in not ending with just this. It goes beyond and explores Sam’s character, and how he loses sight of his faith in the onslaught of uncaring souls till a second transformation finally purges him.
The film is relevant in the Indian context as well. What’s happening in Africa is also the story of India’s tribal hinterlands.
Those of you who have seen photos of the 644 burnt villages in Chhattisgarh will see an uncanny resemblance with similar scenes in the film. Perhaps burnt villages look the same everywhere. And so does poverty. The poor are expendable everywhere. Yet, the most relevant point is, would you shake up your rust and do even a bit of what Sam Childers continues to do?