The recent controversy surrounding the Kony 2012 online video produced by Invisible Children, Inc, has once again brought Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) into the public eye. In order to better understand the controversy, I selected the movie Machine Gun Preacher, a 2011 biopic starring Gerard Butler. The film follows the life of ex-con Sam Childers, who becomes a born-again Christian and travels to Uganda and Sudan to build an orphanage.
Although I am deeply interested in the LRA and the atrocities occuring in northern Uganda and South Sudan, I was hesitant to take any film with Gerard Butler at its word. Although I like him as an actor, his films have never struck me on a personal level. Movies like Gamer, 300, and Law Abiding Citizen are all flights of fancy with no basis in reality. I had to trust that he would give a down-to-earth performance.
I was happily surprised. Although any big-budget picture is susceptible to common cinematic tropes, I found the plot to be engaging and, I daresay, moving on an emotional level. It is hard not to cringe at violence in this film. I found I could relate to the story of Sam Childers, although not on the same level.
Marc Forster is responsible for many films I’ve enjoyed, such as Stranger Than Fiction, Finding Neverland, and Quantum of Solace. I remember blubbering like a baby at the end of Finding Neverland, and I was nearly driven to tears throughout this movie as well. Marc Forster seems to know what chords to strike when aiming for his audience’s heartstrings.
I was surprised to learn the movie has been panned on Rotten Tomatoes, with only a 29% rating from critics. However, audiences have ranked it closer to 62%, with 6.8 stars on IMDb. I wonder how much of this criticism comes from Butler’s involvement, though. In my opinion, it was one of the best performances he has ever given onscreen. Critics also sometimes disparage films that contain social commentary or tackle real-world problems.
Unfortunately, the movie bombed at the box office, recouping less than 3 million of its 30 million dollar budget. I was invested in the rise and fall of Butler’s character, and hoped the movie would have done better. Regardless, I encourage those interested in the events surrounding the LRA to watch this film or seek out concrete resources on the internet.