The film bypasses such matters to focus on Sam’s work in Africa, where he sets out to rescue orphans and other victims of the Sudanese civil war. Sam’s awakening to the plight of the orphans and of those forced to fight at a young age is the movie’s strong suit—a consciousness-raiser for Americans and others who might not know of the atrocities associated with the Lord’s Resistance Army, or the work of John Garang to bring peace to the region.

As he becomes more committed to the mission in Africa, Sam’s relationships to those back home begin to unravel. He demands the full and complete commitment of his family and congregation to his humanitarian efforts. Here the filmmakers clearly want to depict Sam as out-of-control and reckless, but the question remains as to whether this is a break from his earlier life in Christ, or an extension of tendencies that were there from the moment of Sam’s conversion. The film leans toward taking Sam’s early Christian zeal as unassailable when a more nuanced treatment of Sam’s post-conversion actions might have made for a more complex character.

Butler’s limitations as an actor can’t be discounted when assessing the film’s drawbacks, although he’s better in this film than he has been in most of his other performances. Shannon turns in another fine performance as Donnie—good enough that viewers might wish he were in the film more than he is. Meanwhile, Monaghan’s religious influence on Sam could have stood a more in-depth treatment than a few blunt lines of dialogue and church-service scenes.

The story’s conclusion only underlines the film’s mixed message, providing a send-off designed to demonstrate defiant determination in the face of spiritual and political enemies, but clouded by Sam’s continuing reliance on violence as a means to the end he seeks in Africa.

In its exposure of the problems of Sudanese Christians for a broad audience, Machine Gun Preacher hits its target, but as a model of bold faith, it raises more questions than it answers. Those with the stomach and soul to digest the “R”-rated content might find some rewards here, but a good theological grounding is the most important ingredient for understanding the pluses and minuses of Machine Gun Preacher.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; multiple uses of the “f”-word; several other uses of foul language; crude sexual reference; racial epithets.
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: All three depicted; scenes in a bar; characters are shown taking and injecting drugs intravenously; a man overdoses.
  • Sex/Nudity:Sam and Lynn have sex in a car after Sam is released from prison, but remain clothed; later, Lynn rubs against Sam’s groin area; kissing; a reference to Lynn’s past as a stripper, and encouragement by Sam for her take it up again; Lynn shown in her panties and a night shirt.
  • Violence/Crime:Village raids in Africa; children and adults gunned down;  a boy is forced to kill his mother; burned corpses; a land mine explodes, followed by an image of the child killed by it; vomiting; a hitchhiker attacks Sam and Donnie, but is seriously hurt by Sam; Sam wields a gun when breaking into a drug den to rescue Donnie; Sam and his team shoot and are shot at in Africa; a woman shown with her lips cut off; a bar fight.
  • Marriage:Sam’s sense of what God is telling him to do strains his marriage to Lynn.
  • Religion:“God helped me change,” Lynn tells Sam after he insists she return to stripping; Sam tells Donnie that Lynn “found Jesus,” and Donnie replies, “better him than the milkman”; church services include hymn-singing, an altar call and a baptism; Sam says an African political leader “calls himself a Christian, but I say he’s Satan”; Sam tells Lynn God spoke to him, and he has to build a church; when Sam’s orphanage in Africa is burned down, Lynn tells him, “God gave you a purpose. Build it again”; Sam tells others that if he has to cut back his work in Africa, “the devil has won”; Sam is asked, “Do you really think God’s going to forgive us for everything we’ve done?”; a woman tells Sam that Africans say he has special powers and can’t be killed by bullets; Sam says, “I’m done with the Lord. He turned his back on me”; Sam is shown reading a Bible and preaching.
     

Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.