Long before Kony 2012 went viral, a born-again ex-con turned gun-toting missionary called Sam Childers was beseeching the world to wake up to the evils of African warlord Joseph Kony and the plight of the orphans left in the wake of the Lord’s Resistance Army in South Sudan and northern Uganda.
As the rousing but flawed biopic Machine Gun Preacher reveals, a more unlikely evangelist than this self-described ‘hillbilly from Pennyslvania’ – played on screen by Gerard Butler, the film’s executive producer – would be hard to find.
When we first encounter him, the tattooed biker is fresh out of prison and resuming his former life as a violent, drug-abusing criminal in the company of best friend Donny (a wild-eyed Michael Shannon). Dragged into church by his ex-stripper wife (Michele Monaghan), however, Childers experiences a conversion to born-again Christianity and on a trip to Africa finds an outlet for his particular brand of muscular evangelism – rescuing child soldiers from the horrifically vicious LRA and establishing an orphanage for their care.
The sight of a Kalashnikov-wielding white man swooping to the rescue of black children is awkward to say the least. And it doesn’t help that director Marc Forster’s film is too uncritical of Childers’ violent methods and resorts to cinematic cliché a little too often. But Butler brings a blazing intensity to his role and there’s just enough ambivalence in the script’s portrayal of Childers and his obsessive mission to put the film on the side of the angels.
Released on DVD & Blu-ray on Monday 19th March by Lionsgate UK.
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