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Movie Review

Machine Gun Preacher

MPAA Rating: R for violent content including disturbing images, language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality.

Reviewed by: Jeremy Landes
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Action Adventure Biography Drama
Length:
2 hr. 7 min.
Year of Release:
2011
USA Release:
September 23, 2011
DVD: June 5, 2012
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Relevant Issues
Copyright, Relativity Media

orphans in the Bible

starvation

spiritual transformation

defending the weak and vulnerable

goodness

goodness of God

sin

fall of man

righteousness

justice

justice of God

The Just One

judgments of God

the final judgment

Is Jesus Christ the answer to your questions?
Discover the good news that Jesus Christ offers

CHANGE THE WORLD—A single man or woman can help change the world. Read about some who did with faith and God’s help…
Jesus Christ, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David

Suffering

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer

Does God feel our pain? Answer

ORIGIN OF BAD—How did bad things come about? Answer

Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer

hope

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Featuring: Gerard ButlerSam Childers
Michelle MonaghanLynn
Michael Shannon
Madeline Carroll … Sara
Kathy Baker
more »
Director: Marc Forster—‘Monster’s Ball,’ ‘Finding Neverland’
Producer: Relativity Media
Virgin Produced
Safady Entertainment
more »
Distributor: Relativity Media

“Hope is the greatest weapon of all.”

As the end credits roll after “Machine Gun Preacher,” the film’s subject, the real Pastor Sam Childers, asks the audience a rhetorical question. He tells us to put ourselves in the shoes of a bereaved parent whose child has been abducted,, and he asks, “If it were your child, and I could get her back… does it matter how I do it?” In other words, does a satisfying end justify any means of achieving a worthy goal?

For Childers, saving the lives of children in Sudan meant he should engage in a vigilante war against ruthless mercenaries who had captured kids to become sex slaves and child soldiers. This film asks really troubling questions, and the answers it offers are not easy to swallow, especially for believers in Jesus.

The film drops us into Sam’s early life as he’s being released from prison and returning home to his wife and daughter. His life is defined by drugs, alcohol, and violence. After he attends church once with his wife and gets baptized, his life seems to change for the better. We watch him get sober, start working, and even build his own church in which he becomes the pastor. His change-of-life seems way too fast to be believable.

After a missionary shares about Christians being persecuted in Sudan, Childers (played by action star Gerard Butler) takes a trip overseas to help with construction projects. He meets members of an army trying and failing to protect Sudanese villagers from brutal gangs which descend upon villages and threaten to kill little kids unless they club their own parents to death—depicted in the film’s horrific opening scene. Thus, the audience is primed to desire justice for these helpless children.

Watching this film, I was reminded of other films like “Braveheart,” where a man is pushed to his limits by injustice and responds by going to war. One might also think of Old Testament figures like Samson or David who spent many years destroying enemies under God’s direction, according to the Bible. You might also wonder whether God is using Childers like he used them.

I decided the answer was no, after I listened to the false gospel Childers was preaching, screaming angrily at his American congregation, “God doesn’t want sheep—he wants wolves!” By wolves, Childers means people who take up deadly weapons to destroy what they view as evil.

If you really need to see what a false prophet looks and sounds like, Childers, as presented by the film, is it. Tempting, sometimes achieving noble goals, and willing to sin and destroy in order to build his own kingdom. Just because he builds buildings with crosses in Sudan doesn’t mean Christ is being exalted.

You may watch the film and decide that Childers was entirely justified to kill all the people he killed in service toward orphans. You may even find it entertaining to see Hollywood portray a Christian more like Rambo than Ned Flanders for a change. To the credit of the filmmakers, Childers is not painted as a heroic saint. He’s shown as sometimes violent toward his family, judgmental, and often angry toward fellow believers and kids.

However, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend the film, not because it’s graphically violent and contains bad language. I found it profane primarily because it presents a godless view of the Christian faith and the world in which Childers’ violent form of justice is the only real power available for needy African kids. The film exposes you to the story of a pastor who’s trying to play god and ends up becoming a monster to his family and even some of the orphans. If you get sucked into this film, it may be tempting to follow Childers” example, rather than taking the hard road and obeying God’s commands to believers at the end of Romans 12:

“Repay no one evil for evil… If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine,” says the Lord, “I will repay.”… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

It is admittedly easy to sit in a theatre and judge the actions of another man and quote Bible verses stating why you think he’s wrong. But when you are watching this movie, you are thrust into a world where evil will run rampant unless Christians answer with more violence—it’s shown as the only solution, except for one moment when a kid tells Childers not to let hate rule him. I strongly caution you not to put yourself vicariously in the head of Sam Childers for two hours. Evil does demand a rapid response from believers, and He has given us weapons of righteousness to use that don’t require bullets.

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—Providing comments on this movie really required more thought and prayer than I had expected. I had expected a “bad guy get’s saved and does the Lord’s work story”. But this film earned its R rating with strong language, and violence, as well as some sexual content (though this was limited to within the bounds of marriage).

What was thought provoking was how raw and real this story was. It showed not only the good about Childers (which was definitely there), but it also showed the weakness, doubt, and crises of faith. It showed how God formed Childers to perform the work that he did in Africa. There certainly could be controversy over Childer’s methods to help the orphans. However, I think that to so many of the children in that region God uses Childers as an angel of mercy to protect those innocent who are perishing at the hands of very wicked men.

I think this movie is definitely worth seeing, but you must be ready for the elements that make this movie R rated. I will admit that I contemplated in the first 10-minutes getting up and walking out during Childers” pre-salvation back story. However, I am glad that I stayed and watched the film in its entirety, and would recommend the same for mature believers (who can handle the R rated content).
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—John, age 37 (USA)
Positive—…amazing film. [The reviewer’s] negative, condemning opinion is just, simply, wrong. The movie is, contextually aware, a thing of genius. Or, at least something that has never really been done before in film to my knowledge. Actually, it is brilliant! The reviewer obviously, completely missed this. In my response, here, I am at a point of deciding to leave it up to you to decide if what I am saying has merit; rather than try to justify it. Go for it! Watch the whole …gut wrenchingly honest film. …
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Japes Macfarland, age 35 (USA)
Positive—The movie is dark and graphically violent, yet it is a Christian movie, a man at the face of extreme hostility and challenges, building a Church in a land ravaged by unholiness, building a beacon of hope. The Christian messages are knitted throughout the movie. Please don’t condemn this movie, once in a while Hollywood bring some Christian messages, positively, in a movie, you don’t have to support it, but please refrain from condemning it. The plot is very violent, true, but the core of the movie is redemption and dedication of a life for Jesus. It’s an amazing movie, not for children, but if you’re an adult, I recommend it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Cyril Thomas, age 32 (United Kingdom)
Positive—Saw this film recently and was moved by it. There is consistent strong violence and F-word repetition, in the early part of the movie… but I think it is important in setting the context and nature of Childers” life as a violent thug, before his conversion. I don’t normally like a film with excessive use of the f-word, but was able to see it in a broader context here. Concern about Childers’ crisis of faith led me to do some research, and it seems that Childers insisted that the moviemakers put in the film that his driving force in going to Africa was Jesus Christ. What he had no control over were other aspects of his character.

According to Childers… He never had a crisis of faith, he never had personal crises, He never had a friend Donny, but this character reflected a bunch of people… So I know that Childers story has been doctored by the makers of the film… it seems that their worldview didn’t like the idea of a God who would allow such suffering, so tried to write him out, by inventing a faith crisis in Childers… more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: none / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Ian, age 57 (United Kingdom)
Positive—Positive…with caveats. It is not a “Christian Film,” but a Hollywood version of a Christian man. While I don’t agree 100% with the official review here, it certainly points out valid caveats. Reviewer, “After he attends church once with his wife and gets baptized, his life seems to change for the better…. His change-of-life seems way too fast to be believable.” His real life conversion was a process that took several years. This film covered some thirty years of his life and ministry without really giving the sense of that. The preaching portrayed in the film was poor, but may not be representative of Childers’ actual preaching. There is a lot of criticism of Childers for the things he does over in Africa. We live in an evil world. Evil people do evil things and destroy the helpless. The LRA is murdering tens of thousands, and kidnapping, raping, and forcing little children to kill their own parents and then kill for them.

The horror faced by children there is unimaginable. Childers won’t allow it on his watch. He stands up for the helpless. He is a Sheepdog. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, in his book On Combat talks about this concept. Most people are Sheep; they just want to go about their life and not worry about anything, thinking most people are good. Some people are Wolves. They will do evil things, preying on the Sheep. Other people are Sheepdogs. The Sheepdog protects the sheep, but the sheep don’t really like him. This entire essay can be found by clicking the link “On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs.”

There is a famous quote, “All it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” Where he stands, evil is not prevailing as much as it was. Whether Childers is right or wrong in his approach is certainly open to debate, but hundreds of children have been rescued from kidnapping, sexual slavery, and brainwashing. After saying all this I will say I liked the book Another Man’s War better than the movie. Yes, this film was violent and had bad language. The R rating should definitely be observed, and some of the content was uncomfortable to see. But it was worth seeing. Even more than that, the book is worth reading.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Laura S, age 43 (USA)
Positive—God, Himself, called people to go to war. He instructed His believers to go into a camp/nation and wipe them out completely, saving no one. Who are we to tell God how the battle must be won. Sometimes the end does justify the means. God saw the evil in the world that would destroy His children, and he sent a flood that destroyed the world and killed everyone but Noah and his family. He did that, not because he enjoys killing the lives HE created, but because, in the end, it was about SAVING His children and THAT justified the means! Read Revelations… Revelation 19:15—And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations:, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron:, and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Kimberly, age 43 (USA)
Positive—I did like this movie for the most part, although I didn’t always agree with the main character’s methods or beliefs. The amount of profanity at the beginning was almost too much for me, but I liked how it stopped once Childers became a Christian. My biggest problem with this movie was that they never explained how anything was resolved with his family. We saw him take all of their money away from his wife and daughter, bringing it to Africa, while leaving them behind. Then it ended, and told us that Childers and his wife were still together today… but how??
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Kadie Jo, age 20 (USA)
Negative
Negative—Let’s review the movie in context: The Great Commission is in Mark 16:15-18. This movie is not a reflection of what Christians are called to do. The hardships suffered by the character Sam clearly show he is out of step with the commission Jesus commanded. The disciples of Jesus were armed with the word of truth and the Love of God. It does not mean Christians exempt themselves wholly from joining the police or fighting in armies.

Context is everything. God never fails to make provisions, even if called to death.

God’s Ultimate Understanding and Redemption Not Portrayed: This is by no means a Christian movie and does not portray or reflect the work of Christ. Its opening scenes give a comparison between the violence of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who is shown to wantonly murder children and villagers, and Sam Childers before his so called born again conversion. A good start, but no place did the movie show any Spiritual difference between the 2, except that Sam claims to be on God’s side.

I was waiting throughout the movie to see Sam’s recognition that he was acting in the Spirit of Christ. Sam’s every choice in the movie is always to fight fire with fire. In the movie he decides to put the Sudanese Mission in harms way. No reflection is shown of God’s miraculous intervention or protection of the place.

Sex Scenes Not Necessary: Explicit sexual scenes between him (as he exists prison) and his now born again ex-striper wife where not needed. In old fashioned movies, things where better left to our imagination. The film also failed to show any reference to his childhood Christian up bringing, which I heard him speak of at our Foursquare Church (Angelus Temple in L.A.). Any good film maker knows how to do flashbacks to give a foundation to place the character in context of his early life.

His final statement in the credits is something to the effect, what would you do if you saw your children carried away raped and murdered. Would you just stand-by? The question, of course, is how and where do you serve God; from your own understanding? Or by direct orders from the Head Office?

Film hype to Christians: I recommend you read Christian Today about the film and charges against Sam Childers. See Christian themed films such as: “Places in the Heart.” This film starts with the Song “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine” and ends in the Communion with the song “In the Garden.” It has murder by the Klan, accidental killing; adultery; unforgiveness; spiritual blindness but ultimate reconciliation into the family of Christ for those who choose it in truth. Its theme like the movie “The Mission” is, does adversity make you bitter or better, and how will you be found when you are called, including to death’s door. Peace and Blessings Always, Michael D. Howard

About the commenter: I attend many different churches both Fundamentalist and New Mind Thought Congregations. I myself am a Deist. However, I have personal experiential relationship with our Creator. I have heard my name called and have seen many miracles that can only be by the hand of God. I look forward to God’s Salvation as is stated in Isaiah 65:17-25
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Michael, age 65 (USA)

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