FlixChatter Review: Midnight Special (2016)

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I’m a big fan of science fiction films, and the ones that are more *grounded* in our reality, meaning it’s not all sleek and drowned in special effects are usually the most compelling. Midnight Special is certainly one of those films, which in essence is a father/son story.

Right from its opening scene, this film instantly grabbed me and never let up. Two men are on the run with a small boy Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) and the people in a cult organization are hot on their trail. Who the boy is and why he’s so important to the devout followers of this group is not known right away. The only thing we know from the marketing promos is that perhaps he’s from another world as we don’t shoot laser beams from our eyes, nor could we make a satellite fall from the sky. Soon the FBI arrives in the small town in Louisiana and from the interrogations with the cult members, we’re given glimpses of why Alton is so special. As if being on the run is not hard enough, there’s a certain date looming that the runaway group absolutely can’t miss.

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I feel that it’s best to experience this film knowing as little as possible. I love discovering more and more about the characters as one layer after another is peeled away. Alton has a very close relationship with his father Roy (Michael Shannon), who we knew in the beginning is his adopted dad. But who is Lucas (Joel Edgerton), the guy helping them get away? I’ll let you figure that out, as that’s part of the fun of discovering the story.

Jeff Nichols wrote and directed this movie and I’m so impressed by his talent as a storyteller. The story is intriguing albeit not completely original and treads some familiar grounds. It reminds me a bit of Spielberg’s E.T. but with its own twist as well as look and feel. Though the story deals with a kid’s special powers, it’s not really the main focus. Instead, it’s more about the relationship of Alton and Roy and why Roy would risk everything, even his own life, to get Alton to where he needs to go. It’s a bond that transcend understanding.

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The performances are excellent all around. I haven’t seen Lieberher in anything but despite his young age, this isn’t his first film. He’s able to convey a lot without saying anything, which is tricky even for adult actors. Shannon is truly one of the best actors working today as he’s excellent in everything I’ve seen him in so far, including this one. There’s something enigmatic about him but here he shows a tender, vulnerable side as well. He shares a convincing emotional bond with Lieberher which makes you so invested in their journey. Edgerton is another actor whose work I admire, so it’s cool to see both him and Shannon’s continued collaboration with Nichols (both are featured in his latest film, the Sundance darling Loving). Adam Driver has a supporting role as the NSA officer, sporting geeky chic glasses a la Snowden. He’s quite memorable here and at times provides some comic relief. I have to mention Kirsten Dunst and Sam Shepard as well in small but key supporting roles.

Though mostly serious, the film isn’t devoid of humor and some amusing scenes thanks to some of the roles some of the actor have portrayed. I’m not going to say what that reference is, but let’s just say it has something to do with a superhero from another world who’s also adopted by an earthly father. I appreciate that the film has plenty of quiet moments but by no means slow or tedious. The fact that there’s not much action happening, but when it does, it’s quite effective.


I wouldn’t say the film is perfect however, there are some predictable moments that somewhat lessen the impact. The fact that there are still a lot of unanswered questions about Alton by the end is a bit frustrating. Why did he end up on earth in the first place, why is the daylight harmful to him, why the cult thinks Alton is who they think they are, and so on. That said, there’s enough going for it that Midnight Special was a satisfying ride. Oh and that finale is quite a heart-pounding one. Given all the suspenseful build up, nice to see a pretty powerful pay-off.

Overall it’s an impressive film that offers a unique twist to an often-told sci-fi tale. This one is actually Nichols’ first studio film (with Warner Bros), but given that it’s budget is only $18 mil, the studio still agreed to let him have the final cut. I sure hope that he’ll continue to get as much creative control over his work even as he inevitably transition into bigger-budget films.

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So have you seen ‘Midnight Special’? Let me know what you think!

Weekend Viewing Roundup: Eddie the Eagle, Midnight Special + BBC’s War & Peace miniseries

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How was your weekend everyone? Hope it was a nice one. Well this past week ended up being a pretty busy one in terms of movie watching. I finished The White Queen on Tuesday and was so obsessed with the whole War of the Roses history, especially Richard III that I’ve re-watched some of the episodes again! I’ve also ordered three books on the much-maligned monarch and am currently reading Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time.

BFGOn Thursday I went to a screening of Steven Spielberg’s The BFG, which I thought was just ok. I never read the children’s book by Roald Dahl so I wasn’t all that enthused about it. It’s kind of slow going and I find the story to be more simplistic than some of Disney’s animated features, such as the recent Zootopia, that has a pretty compelling story.

On Friday and Saturday night, my hubby and I watched two recent releases we missed on the big screen: Eddie the Eagle and Midnight Special, respectively. Both are enjoyable, but the latter is especially impressive and I’d rate that as one of the best 2016 films so far. I really wish I had seen that on the big screen, but it was well worth the wait. Jeff Nichols is on a roll right now and I’m glad we have a talented filmmaker like him working in Hollywood right now. I was so impressed with his third film Mud, but I still need to see his first two films Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter (both starring his muse Michael Shannon). I shall have my review of Midnight Special later this week.

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My hubby and I’ve also decided to restart our HULU subscription so we could watch BBC’s 8-part miniseries War & Peace. We’ve only managed to see one episode so far but we like it enough we’ll keep on watching. The mostly-British cast is excellent. I’ve always liked Lily James but it’s Paul Dano & James Norton in the first episode who’ve made an impression so far. Nice bonus to see my new crush Aneurin Barnard in a small role here too. No no, I haven’t abandoned Sam Riley completely, this young Welshman is just a nice distraction 😉

Speaking of which, I also started watching this British indie comedy Hunky Dory that reminds me a bit of Sing Street. I’m a big fan of Minnie Driver and she plays a drama teacher in the mid 70s, putting on an end-of-term version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Like Sam, Aneurin can also sing!! #BeStillMyHeart

Suffice to say I’ll try to catch up on more of Aneurin’s work. I’d probably spontaneously combust when I see him AND Sam together on screen in BBC’s SS-GB!! Having read the book, I knew they both will share a scene together, wahoo!


So that’s my weekend recap. What did YOU watch this weekend, anything good?

FlixChatter Review: 99 Homes (2015)

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Right from the moment this film was announced, I was immediately hooked by the timely premise and the cast. Set in Orlando, Florida and loosely based on a real-life events, Andrew Garfield plays a twenty-something single dad Dennis Nash who’s been struggling to find decent work as a construction worker. His family gets evicted from his family home where he’s lived since he was a kid, where he lives with his young son and hairstylist mom. Right away I sympathize with Nash as he just can’t seem to catch a break no matter how hard he tries.

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On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got a shrewd, wealthy real estate broker Rick Carver, played with steely gaze and gravitas by Michael Shannon. The actor is a towering figure already at 6’3″ but there’s something inherently ominous about him that makes him so perfect for this role. It’s easy to think of Carver as nothing but a greedy bastard who’s all about making money off of other people’s misery. I mean, when he drives around the block of certain neighborhoods in his fancy car, all he sees is what profit he could make from these homes. Yet as the film progress, we see that he’s not a one-dimensional villain and there is a reason behind his madness.

Filmmaker Ramin Bahrani tackled the subject of the housing crisis with such astute and empathetic eye. The way he filmed the eviction scene is truly heartbreaking and the actors portray the grief and outrage convincingly. I read that Bahrani apparently used some non-actors playing people being evicted from their homes, but he didn’t tell the lead actors in order to get an authentic response from those scenes.

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The film is tense and suspenseful despite not having much action going on. I felt that under a lesser director, they’d probably sensationalize this story with unnecessary shoot-outs or sex scenes to drive the point across. But thankfully Bahrani chose subtlety and infuse the film with nervous energy that keeps building until a boiling point in a riveting finale. He’s definitely a director to watch and no wonder Roger Ebert called him ‘the new great American director’ in this piece from 2009. “His films pay great attention to ordinary lives that are not so ordinary at all,” the article says, and indeed he accomplished that in 99 Homes. I think being the son of Iranian immigrants gave him a unique perspective on American culture and events that shape Americans.

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The strength of the film also lie in the two leads Shannon and Garfield. It’s interesting that both have just recently done a superhero movie(s), Man of Steel and Spider-Man, respectively. But you won’t even associate either of them with those roles, which is a testament to their fantastic performance and versatility. Garfield captured the anguish of his character perfectly, and he makes for a convincing young dad. There are some emotional scenes between him and his son (Noah Lomax, who bears a striking resemblance to Garfield), as well as his mom (the always watchable Laura Dern). He has a great rapport with Shannon and they play each other off so well. I have to mention Tim Guinee as well who has a small but memorable supporting role as a friend of Nash who’s driven to extremes by circumstances.

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This film certainly doesn’t paint the real estate system in a flattering light, but yet somehow Bahrani manage to present the story as it is. It’s not a preachy piece that push a certain agenda. It’s more about two characters from two opposite real estate spectrum, and how their lives end up affecting each other in ways they’d never imagine.

Like any formidable house, 99 Homes is built on a strong foundation of a sharp script and held up by intuitive direction and powerful performances. A timely drama that will linger long after the closing credits. I can’t recommend this one enough. I definitely look forward to more films by Ramin Bahrani and more intriguing roles for both Garfield and Shannon.

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Have you seen 99 Homes? Well, what did you think?

7 Films Screened at Sundance 2015 I’m most curious about

Sundance2015How’s your weekend everybody? I spent some of my weekend reading [and dreaming] about the Sundance Film Festival. I wish I could go there one day, the venue itself in Park City, Utah is gorgeous and of course, it’s a haven for movie fans, especially indie lovers. Who knows when we’ll actually see these films in a theater near us, but hopefully we will eventually.

So here are just a tiny sampling of movies that piqued my interest [in random order]:

Z For Zachariah

Director: Craig Zobel
Writer: Pall Grimsson, Nissar Modi
Cast: Margot Robbie, Chris Pine, Chiwetel Ejiofor

In the wake of a disaster that wipes out most of civilization, two men and a young woman find themselves in an emotionally charged love triangle as the last known survivors.

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I’ve been seeing this photo all over the place and the cast alone intrigues me. I had no idea this was about a love triangle set in a post-apocalyptic world. Apparently this is based on a YA novel and according to this review from Variety,  the book has “…allusions to the Genesis narrative, [and] the novel was seen by some critics as a metaphorical clash between science and faith.” I was impressed w/ Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street, and it’d be interesting to see her in a more prominent role against these two equally gorgeous and talented actors.

Here’s a clip from the film

Brooklyn

Director: John Crowley
Writer: Nick Hornby
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Jim Broadbent, Emory Cohen, and Domhnall Gleeson

In 1950s Ireland and New York, young Ellis Lacey has to choose between two men and two countries.

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I LOVE Ronan and the 20-year-old’s definitely coming into her own as a grown-up actress now after churning in great performances in her teen years, esp. Atonement and Hanna. I like the sound of this period drama and John Crowley’s the same director who did the excellent Boy A with Andrew Garfield.

99 Homes

Director: Ramin Bahrani
Writer: Ramin Bahrani, Amir Naderi
Cast: Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern

After his family is evicted, proud and desperate construction worker Dennis Nash (GARFIELD) tries to win his home back by striking a deal with the devil and working for Rick Carver (SHANNON), the corrupt real estate broker who evicted him.

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This sounds really intriguing, and it’s already got really good reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes. Here’s an excerpt from We Got This Covered, “It is a film that could easily have condescended with characters that fall too concretely on the sides of black and white, the 99% vs. the 1%. (it is easy to believe that the 99 from the title refers to the plight of the common individual against the monopoly of the elite). However, Bahrani and co-scribe Amir Naderi are too perceptive and intelligent to depict these two men in simplistic ways.” 

No trailer yet, but here’s a clip featuring both actors:

Last Days in the Desert

Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Writer: Rodrigo Garcia
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Tye Sheridan, Ciarán Hinds

An imagined chapter from Jesus’ forty days of fasting and praying in the desert. On his way out of the wilderness, Jesus struggles with the Devil over the fate of a family in crisis.

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Ok so yes I was initially intrigued to see this mainly to see how McGregor pull off playing both Jesus and the Devil. But reading this interview with the filmmaker and lead actor on Christianity Today made me all the more curious. Described in the article as “…a character-driven meditation on family and mortality, haunting and spare” it seems as far away from something like EXODUS in terms of its *epic* and CGI-laden extravaganza, but hopefully it offers a reflective and thought-provoking look of Jesus’s life in perhaps his pivotal moment in his short but momentous life.

Lila & Eve

Director: Charles Stone III
Writer: Pat Gilfillan
Cast: Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez

Two distraught mothers, whose children were gunned down in a drive-by, team up to avenge their deaths after local authorities fail to take action.

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Viola Davis and J-Lo?? Now THAT’s quite an unlikely duo. It’s reminiscent of Thelma & Louise but decidedly more serious in tone. Considering the cultural climate of the recent police shootings in this country, the film would likely spark controversies. It’s certainly nice to see two strong women of color, who have a huge following in their own right, starring in a film together. The main draw for me here is Davis who’s charismatic and massively talented. Despite her questionable choice of movies, Lopez is actually not a bad actress and perhaps she gets to show her dramatic chops in this one.

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Director: Andrew Bujalsk
Writer: Andrew Bujalsk
Cast: Cobie Smulders, Guy Pearce

Two mismatched personal trainers’ lives are upended by the actions of a new, wealthy client.

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Guy Pearce in a comedy, as a personal trainer no less? Yes please! Interesting to see the pairing of him and Smulders, but both have been in Marvel movies. Variety reported that the film’s been sold to Magnolia and perhaps will open later this Summer. Here’s more info about the plot: The film is set in the fitness world of Austin, Texas, with Corrigan as a recently divorced, miserable slob who makes a stab at self-improvement by signing up for a personal trainer at a local gym, where he meets the self-styled guru/owner (Pearce) and acerbic trainer Kat (Smulders). Sounds good to me!

Slow West

Director: John MacLean
Writer: John MacLean
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendehlson, Kodi Smit-McPhee

‘Slow West’ follows a 16-year-old boy on a journey across 19th Century frontier America in search of the woman he loves, while accompanied by mysterious traveler Silas.

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It’s interesting to note that first time director was a musician whose music been featured in films like High Fidelity and Remember Me. He worked on a short called Man on a Motorcycle starring Fassbender and perhaps that’s who the two met. Fassbender is also producing this film, described in MacLean’s own words in this Indiewire interview as “A European perspective of the West and young love…” Westerns isn’t my go-to genre, but the premise and cast definitely grabs my attention.

Hopefully these movies will all get distribution and that I get to see them later this year!


Well, have you been following Sundance this year? Which movies are you most excited to see?

Question of the Week: What’s your favorite White House movie scene?

OlympusHasFallenPosterI’m set for an advanced screening of the white house actioner Olympus Has Fallen tomorrow. Surely you’ve seen the pretty aggressive promos of that one all over the place. Interestingly enough, the marketing for the movie has been putting the White House itself as the main STAR of the film. I mean there are some posters that feature the actors, but the white house is always featured prominently on there, as if we’d forget what that iconic POTUS house actually looks like! Now, that’s perhaps saying something about the lead actor of the movie, don’t you think?

Anyway, early reviews I’ve read so far have been surprisingly decent. Of course we shall see come Thursday what the actual RT score would be, but right now it’s sitting at 67%. WOW! Though this movie was on my radar, I didn’t even put this one on my most-anticipated list, as you know how I feel about Gerry Butler these days. It’s amusing that many reviewers are saying that it’s the best Die Hard movie of the year, ahah, take that Bruce Willis! I’m not expecting much, but I can’t imagine this one would be worse than A Good Day to Die Hard, besides I think Antoine Fuqua is a pretty decent director.

Anyway, it made me think of memorable movie scenes set in the White House (regardless of whether it’s actually shot on location or on a made-up set). Then I’ll turn it over to you folks to give me YOUR pick of memorable White House scene. It doesn’t have to be action-related, in fact the idea here is to give and take movie recommendations to fellow cinephiles.

So here are three that came to mind right away:

Pardon the quality of the video, but this is an awesome intro scene in X-Men 2, my favorite of the whole X-Men saga.

Terrence Stamp and one of his most iconic Superman lines, “Kneel Before Zod!” I’m curious how Michael Shannon would fare in that role in Man of Steel!

Of course who could forget this one. I’d say it’s perhaps the most iconic scene involving the White House to date, and ID4 is what Roland Emmerich will always be remembered for.

Now, not all of memorable scenes are about an attack of the White House of course. In fact, I always remember this scene from Clear and Present Danger where Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) confronted the President. Too bad the clip cuts out the part when Jack defiantly said, “I’m sorry Mr. President. I don’t dance!”

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Now your turn folks. Give us your favorite movie(s) and/or movie scenes set in the White House.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt Special: Premium Rush & Looper Reviews

It’s been quite a year for 31-year-old young thespian Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He’s got four movies opening this year alone, including one mega-blogbuster The Dark Knight Rises. It’s a testament to his versatility that he’s played a supporting role in two (TDKR and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, out later this November), and a starring role in two action thrillers released within a month of each other. Here are the reviews of those two, starting with the review from FC contributor Cecilia Rusli:

Premium Rush (2012)

I really think that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is currently Hollywood’s shining star in skinny-guy category. He has pretty much impressed me on 500 Days of Summer, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises which actually affected my curiosity on Premium Rush and Looper where I end up with watching both of them this week.

Premium Rush tells the life of Wilee as a bike messenger who received a package which made he chased by a dirty cop. The main idea of the whole movie is about chasing and running. With a bike.

The movie definitely would appeal to fans of single-speed bikes (fixies) and if you’re one of those people, I’d think you won’t be disappointed in this one. Levitt succeed in showing the best he’s got as a cyclist, riding in a crowded traffic in style. There are plenty of edge-of-your-seats moments here which made me think that this is the bike-version of Fast and Furious. It has a story, but people should not expect much from it. The action parts on the traffic is very entertaining, especially those moments when a biker comes really close to having a deadly accident. However, there was one scene that’s quite disappointing as it appears as if there was going to be a bike-outbreak, where a bunch of bikes suddenly came out of a garage to deceive their enemy, but I don’t think that scene wasn’t handled very well.

As Bobby Monday, Michael Shannon plays his role pretty well. He managed to show his persistence as a tough villain who never stop his fight. Big guy as a dirty cop versus the skinny bike messenger is quite entertaining to watch.

One fun thing about Premium Rush is the graphic design. I really love how Wilee’s GPS shown on the screen, indicating which one is the best way to reach a certain place. The director, David Koepp, also shows some possibilities might happened in route that Wilee’s take. It feels a bit like playing a video game.

In conclusion, if you’re looking for a movie which will pump your adrenaline with fun visuals with not much concerns about the story, Premium Rush will suit you just fine. A breath of fresh air for those who are bored watching car chase scenes.

P.S: Stay on seat after the movie ends for some additional footage in the end credits

– Review by Cecilia R.

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Looper (2012)

Time travel sci-fi movies are inherently intriguing to me, so when I first saw the trailer with THIS cast, I knew I wanted to see it. The hype surrounding this film is quite strong, at least if I’m using Twitter as a barometer, but I’m glad to report that I’m not disappointed.

As in the trailer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a specialized assassin, in an outfit called the Loopers. He lives in the year 2042 but the mob he works for lives 30 years ahead where time travel would’ve been invented. When his employer from the future wants to get rid of someone, they zap that person back 30 years where someone like Joe would be waiting with a big gun in hand, ready to blow them up to oblivion. The only rule is: never let your target escape… even if your target is you. The job seems easy enough, I mean, the targets are blindfolded, so it’s not like they could really escape. That is, until one did, and that target happens to be his older self, in the form of Bruce Willis.

Now, before the action begins in full throttle, Director Rian Johnson sets up the story by introducing the Looper doing their jobs and how these junkies hit-men spend their lives in a dystopian future (is there any other kind in the movies??). “Loopers are well paid, they lead a good life…” Joe said in his narration, but what he means by ‘good’ doesn’t mean a happy one and it’s clear that Joe is disillusioned with his life.

Let me just say the less you know about the plot the better as I went in pretty much ‘blind,’ other than seeing the trailer weeks ago, and it’s fun to see the story unravel in ways I didn’t really expect. There’s really a lot to chew on here, as do most time-travel movies, and I have to admit it was a bit mind-boggling to digest it all as I’m watching it, but now that I’ve processed the movie more, Johnson actually told the story well enough without an overly drawn-out exposition.

The strengths are in the performances, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who seems to only get better and better as he grows to be a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. Seems like every time I see him, even in minor roles like in Inception or The Dark Knight Rises, he never fails to impress. I’ve got to admit though, his prosthetic make-up to make him look like Bruce Willis is distracting at times, but once I get into the story, I got used to it. In fact, in some scenes Gordon-Levitt’s mannerism and expressions really do remind me of Willis!

Now, I’ve always been a fan of Bruce. He’s a bad ass guy with a heart and I feel that he sold me on the emotional moments as well as on the action front, in which he channels his iconic John McClane in the Die Hard franchise. In fact, I kept waiting for him to yell ‘Yiippiikayee’ during some of the shootout scenes!

I’m also impressed with Emily Blunt and child actor Pierce Gagnon who plays her little boy. Both played two key roles that serve as the emotional center of the story. Their paths crossed with both the younger and older Joe in a way that not only affect their own lives but the lives of Joe’s fellow Loopers. Their scenes with Gordon-Levitt are well-played, though it could perhaps be tightened a bit as it does feel dragging at times. Jeff Daniels and Paul Dano also lend memorable supporting performances, Daniels is sort of a comic relief as Joe’s manager who happens to be sent by the mob from the future.

It’s refreshing to see a movie based on an original script, not an adaptation nor a remake. Despite all the time travel elements, the film also doesn’t feel too science-fiction-y. I’m also glad Johnson doesn’t pile on one action set pieces after another, instead there are a lot of quiet moments to establish character development that help you get immersed in Joe’s journey.

Final Thoughts: Looper is a thrill ride that has a nice blend of thrilling action and matters of the heart. There are brutal action and some totally-unnecessary nudity here, but fortunately not so much so that derails my overall appreciation for it. At the core of this movie lies a heartfelt love story between a man and a woman, and also between a mother and his son. I like what Ryan @ The Matinee said in his review about how our decisions have a ripple effect that might impact people in ways we don’t intend or understand. It reminds me a bit of another time-travel movie Frequency which also deals with this theme, but this one is much less melodramatic.

I haven’t seen Brick yet, but I might give that a shot to see Johnson + Gordon-Levitt’s previous collaboration. I have an inkling this won’t be the last movie of the pair and that’d be a welcome project in my book!

4.5 out of 5 reels


Thoughts on Premium Rush and/or Looper? Let us know in the comments!

FlixChatter Review: Machine Gun Preacher

The story of Sam Childers reads like a work of fiction, even Gerard Butler who played him in the film thought so when he first read the concept of the film. But no, it only sounds too good to be true. Childers was a former gang biker who led a reckless and dangerous life full of drugs, alcohol and violence who turns to God after hitting rock bottom and finds a new purpose in life. I’m always drawn to stories about redemption, and Marc Forster doesn’t pull any punches in portraying the protagonist at his worst, which made his journey even more remarkable.

Machine Gun Preacher opens with incredibly brutal night scenes in a small African village and contrasting that with the life of a man half a world away in rural Pennsylvania. It’s the day Childers is being released from prison. By the way he defiantly strode out of there, cussing at the prison guard just before he walked out, it’s safe to assume he’s been there for the umpteenth time and nothing has changed. He didn’t have much respect for his wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) and was downright hostile towards her upon hearing that she had quit her lucrative stripping job. ‘You found Jesus?!’ He howled at her. ‘No Sam, He found me!’ Childers then stormed out and was immediately back to his old ways of shooting heroin and ruthlessly robbing crack houses with his BFF Donnie (Michael Shannon).

But the Lord works in mysterious ways. One night Childers was close to slaying someone’s life, the next morning he’s shown getting ready for church. Soon he gets baptized and turns his life around almost in an instant. It’s perhaps an oversimplification on the film part to get things moving along to the real ‘meat’ of the story which takes place in Africa. Thus the film breezes through the part of how he came to building a church for ‘sinners like himself’ as he calls it, which led him to a mission trip that becomes a catalyst of his current humanitarian work.

Soon after Childers arrive in Sudan, he’s exposed to the atrocity of the Lord’s Resistant Army (LRA), a guerrilla group that routinely kidnap children to turn them into soldiers, which explains that scene shown in the beginning of the film. This film is definitely not for the faint of hearts, many times I have to cover my eyes during the violent parts, especially those involving children. Contrary to what the title suggests, Childers doesn’t immediately take up his bazooka and start shootin’. He first builds an orphanage that ends up getting burned down, but with his wife’s encouragement, he builds it again. It’s when the rebels threaten to burn it down again that Childers thought it’s best to fight them instead of waiting for them to attack again.

The story of Sam Childers is not an easy one to film. I mean, we’re talking about compressing a 30-year span of someone’s life into a 2-hr feature here. The real life preacher surely is a much more complicated figure than what’s depicted on screen, but I think the moral of the story comes through. Here’s a man who is appalled by such a grave injustice and human cruelty, but instead of simply feeling sorry for the people affected, he actually does something about it. Yes his method is quite controversial, both believers and non-believers alike question the use of firepower to protect these children that some may call a radical act. But the way I see it, I really don’t know how he could shelter these kids and make them feel safe if they’re not armed to defend themselves??

Kudos for Gerard Butler for taking a massive pay-cut to bring Childers’ story to life. He truly embodied the character with his passionate and stirring performance. I’ve always believed he’s a capable and versatile actor, so his dramatic chops here doesn’t exactly surprise me. Most people know he’s perfect for the action-packed scenes, but his interaction with the kids brings out his tender, sensitive side that’s wonderful to watch.

“If you allow your heart to be full of hate, they have won.”

This quote comes in the heart-wrenching scene between Childers and one of the orphaned kids is one of my favorites from the movie. It echoes what Childers often said in interviews, that even though people say he saved these kids, they in turn save him, too.

The supporting performances are terrific as well. Monaghan perhaps seems too glamorous for the role of Lynn, but she did a wonderful job in portraying a loving and supportive wife who is key in keeping the family together. Michael Shannon, whom I saw on screen for the first time has quite a screen presence, but I feel that his talent is sort of wasted in an under-written role. But I suppose it’s quite a challenge to write a role like Donnie who’s actually an amalgam of several of Childers’ former biker friends. I also like Souleymane Sy Savane’s performance as the Sudanese freedom fighter Deng. His calm demeanor offers a nice contrast to Childers’ impetuous nature but their bond of friendship looks effortless.

As I said briefly in this post, I disagree with the critics’ assessment. No I’m not saying it’s a perfect film and I do have some issues about the pace and the way the filmmakers take a lot of liberties in regards to Childers’ faith journey, but despite the flaws the film still works. Also, for a film where the protagonist is in fact a preacher, the film isn’t ‘preachy.’ There’s no ‘holier-than-thou’ sentiment as Childers still struggles with his inner demons even after he got saved.

Overall, it’s an uplifting story that shines a light to a subject matter we don’t often hear in the media. I don’t even mind the seemingly incomplete ending, perhaps it’s intentional as Childer’s work in Africa still continues to this day. There are some films linger long after the end credits roll, and I certainly feel that way with Machine Gun Preacher. And speaking of end credits, it’s worth staying to see the footage of the real preacher and other people portrayed in the film.

4 out of 5 reels


I hope you give this film a chance and judge for yourself. I really think that regardless of your personal belief, there is something we can all take away from this film. If you have seen this one, I’d love to hear what you think.