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Machine Gun Preacher (15)

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Review byMatthew Turner02/11/2011

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 129 mins

Watchable, well acted drama that tells a remarkable true story, that is a good thirty minutes too long and slightly hampered by its allegiance to factual detail, meaning that it eventually becomes frustratingly repetitive.

What's it all about?
Directed by Marc Forster, Machine Gun Preacher is based on a true story and stars Gerard Butler as Sam Childers, an ex-con who gets out of jail and falls straight back into criminal ways with his best friend Donnie (Michael Shannon), much to the consternation of his wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) and their daughter Paige (Ryann Campos then Madeleine Carroll), who have found religion while he's been in jail. When Sam hits rock bottom, Lynn's influence has a strong effect on him and, newly religious, he decides to volunteer to help refugees in Uganda, leaving a recently clean-and-sober Donnie to look after his family.

While in Uganda, Sam is horrified at the violence of the local warlords and becomes obsessed with saving orphans in Southern Sudan, using whatever means necessary. However, the irony is that in doing good, Sam begins to neglect his family just as much as he did when he was a criminal.

The Good
Butler delivers one of his best performances (which, admittedly, isn't saying very much) as Sam and there's strong support from the always excellent Michael Shannon (who does a huge amount with an underwritten part – check out the expression on his face when Sam lashes out at him), Madeleine Carroll and from Michelle Monaghan (looking a lot like Emma Stone). There's also an eye catching turn from Jessica Joffe as refugee worker Agnete, a striking redhead role that somehow seems to have escaped the attention of Jessica Chastain.

The Bad
Sam's story (which, the closing captions inform us, is still continuing today) is undoubtedly impressive and commendable but the film's insistence on sticking to the facts (relatively speaking) prevents it from going down the more entertainingly exploitative route hinted at by the title. Similarly, the lack of the expected explosive climax means that the ending is disappointing when a more fictionalised version of the story would have built to an exciting finale.

On top of that, there are some severe pacing problems and the film is at least thirty minutes too long, thanks to repetitive sequences where Sam returns home, goes back to Uganda, returns home and so on. There's also a curious decision to leave Sam's family at home, whereas the real-life clips that play during the closing credits indicate that both Lynn and Paige frequently accompanied Sam to Uganda.

Worth seeing?
Machine Gun Preacher is a watchable drama enlivened by a strong cast, but it's also much too long and eventually becomes bogged down in its repetitive structure.

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Content updated: 04/11/2011 00:02

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