A Free Mind
Machine Gun Preacher: Not Your Mama's Christian Movie
The film's power lies in the straightforward story that doesn't need sophisticated plot devices to hold interest. It combines the immediacy of a documentary with the considerable skill of the director and actors, to tell a powerful tale that makes viewers uncomfortable—precisely because they know it has truth behind it. When Childers is building a cross in his African church, and his face is framed in the center of the cross, we understand in whose name he comes.
Machine Gun Preacher pays viewers the compliment of knowing that they don't need continual speeches about motivations and reactions. They don't need Childers to make a speech when, after killing a teenage soldier, he spirals into a loss of faith in God and everyone around him. The full range of humanity, inhumanity, helplessness, and suffering are brilliantly conveyed in a single sequence that is more eloquent in its silence than any speech.
There is violence. It is the cruel violence carried out by inhumane predators in the Sudan. The audience needs to see it, and the helpless victims, in order to grasp what is at stake. Likewise, the violence of Childers' early life is vivid and repellent, but none of it is gratuitous or glamorous. This is violence as it probably should be portrayed—repellent and costly, not Hollywood-glossy. It is real.
It is to the filmmakers' credit that skillful editing leaves us with the full shock of the violence but still somewhat protected from complete reality.
The acting is superb, the editing original and effective, the cinematography arresting, and the directing spot-on for this gritty, visceral story about a man who doesn't know how to do anything at less than full-speed. It is the luck of the children of the Sudan that what he does full-speed is saving them from the wolves of war.
Machine Gun Preacher tells us the story in a way that does full credit to Sam Childers' efforts, and to the Savior who motivates his every action. This is Oscar material and I can't recommend it highly enough.
The question, upon leaving the theater, however is: what do we do with what we've learned?
Julie Davis blogs about it at Happy Catholic and discusses both books and movies at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. Her new book is Happy Catholic, published by Servant Publishing. Follow Julie on Twitter and Facebook