First and foremost, director Marc Forster displays absolutely no aptitude for subtlety; think of a method in which a movie can attempt to manipulate one’s emotions and Machine Gun Preacher probably employs that method. Watching this film is like being beaten over the head with a hammer; a soft, velvety hammer to be sure but a hammer nonetheless. I’ve never been one to get up in arms about a movie trying to invoke emotions but man, a little more respect for the viewer’s ability to follow along and connect would have been appreciated. Second, the characters are all horribly one-dimensional and robotic. At times Sam breaks out of his cage but these moments are few and far between and most of the time all of the main characters remain rigidly bound to the overly-simplistic, paper-thin guidelines set out in what I’m assuming is a miserable script. Third, the performances within MGP are really, really bad. I’m not sure whether the acting is hamstrung by the wretched characters or if the characters never get a chance to expand because of the bad acting, but regardless, these are not portrayals that this cast will wish to bring up in the future. Even Michael Shannon, one of the greatest, most underrated actors of his generation, seems completely lost in a role that perhaps he regretted taking. It’s been quite a run for Shannon of late so I won’t get up in arms about one lesser performance, especially considering how much better he is than the lead.
Let it be known that I do like Gerard Butler. I hate (repeat: HATE) most of the movies he has made since 2007’s 300 but I’ve been willing to cut him some slack based on the fact that it took him many years to catch his big break and I can’t blame him for taking a few paycheck roles afterwards. That said, his performance in MGP makes it very hard to defend him. Much like Forster’s work behind the camera (and perhaps because of it), Butler seems to be dead set on FORCING the viewer to relate rather than letting the audience make that choice on their own. To describe his acting as “award pandering” might be a little strong but it’s not far from the truth. Moreover (and much more importantly in my book), his accent is legitimately among the worst I have ever heard. In the beginning of the film, I couldn’t decide if he was supposed to be American (he is) or if the real-life Sam Childers was actually Scottish (he isn’t). The accent jumps back and forth, though always tinted with a twinge of a foreign accent. I could probably forgive that. But things got much, much worse in the second act when Butler flipped a switch and went into a BRUTAL southern accent, complete with the dialogue you might expect to get from an episode of Hee-Haw. Childers is from Pennsylvania, not the deep south, and even if Butler had mastered the accent, the dialogue would have still proven unbearable. I’m of the opinion that if you can’t do the accent, then you just don’t do it. Tom Cruise took flack for his role in Valkyrie in which he made no attempt at a German accent but I would much prefer that to trying an accent and butchering it. Later on Butler seems to have gotten this memo as he reverts back to the “is he American or not” accent on display earlier on.
If all of that isn’t enough to keep you from seeing MGP, let me also tell you that the movie decisively lacks an audience. Often it feels like an overtly Christian film, brought to you by the studio who gave us Facing the Giants and Fireproof (films which I have previously expressed a distaste for despite the shared beliefs I have with the filmmakers). But then it goes out of its way to separate itself from those films by allowing Butler to fly off the handle with a flurry of words that insure MGP will earn its R-rating. I can’t imagine many of those I go to church with embracing this film because of the unnecessarily graphic handling of the subject matter; similarly, I would expect non-churchgoers to bail out based on the cheesy, Kirk Cameron-y way in which the film is laid out. At the end of the day, this is just simply a bad movie that does nothing with its worthwhile central story and actually gets worse the more I think about it.