We have arrived. Machine Gun Preacher is “Kony 2012: The Movie,” a look inside the South African genocide recently brought to the surface in social media, controversially as some may say. Ditching the politics to focus on the broader issue and cinematic content, Preacher dials in on Sam Childers (Gerard Butler), a renegade on the streets living the hard life until he’s brought under the hand of God and the cause that becomes his calling.
The film’s broadest flub is a lack of subtly. Childers’ street life is one of unconscionable actions, drugs, and spousal abuse. His turn, which happens in mere minutes of screen time, is too wide a stroke, far too unconvincing for that life transition, at least on this level. Not only is this on-screen Childers an adoptee of the church, he builds his own.
His trips to what amount to war zones in civilian areas pour on the unimaginable plight, the focus squarely on the children who are slaughtered en masse or forced into unthinkable acts. Childers acts as their guardian angel, building not only his church back home, but an orphanage in South Africa.
It’s easy to be invested in this material, short of being utterly heartless. Whether or not the forceful nature of the script (which feels crammed and working with tight time confines) pushes those issues ineffectively, the content remains the heart of the film. Embellished from true events for glimpses of roadside shoot-outs? Certainly. However, the question remains as to what was deemed too fierce or emotionally scarring to film. That material exists too.
Preacher hits a rut closing in on its third act, Childers shuffling between his home life and Africa, the two sides containing his slow mental breakdown. The repetition seems to be wearing as much on Childers as it is the audience, his eventual meltdown taking down his friends and family in a vicious swing. That’s why Preacher pushes so hard to makes it point, because the material to come is damning. It needs a base to set his almost cult-ish actions upon, and it’s still not enough. As much as the film wants this to be a story of man willing to give up everything for the greater good, there’s sympathy for the turn-around he made at home. It’s too harsh a turn, too mean given his past, to see it as anything other than a regression.
Preacher also wildly miscalculates by making additional political statements, bringing in the economy, the one percent, and the banks. The message begins to wane in terms of relevance, those characters introduced thrown onto the fire and unseen again as the piece moves into the next scene of Butler hoisting up a machine gun, which is great for the trailer. Characters become emotional fodder, not honest discussion, and this is an issue that doesn’t need a simple scapegoat.
Machine Gun Preacher’s opening scene, a nighttime raid, is a set up for black levels that never come, at least not again in this capacity. They like to be jumpy, either in the sense that they tilt gray, or sniff out some blues. Whatever the case, the film has too many key scenes which take place in the open fields at night to be sacrificing such an integral portion of the image.
There are dual film stocks are work, interchangeable 35mm and 16mm dependent on the scene. The switch will bring about differing grain structures, the 35mm almost imperceptible and well resolved, the 16mm… not so much. The first shot of America is down a white walled hallway where the grain can congregate and explode into a pretty flurry of chroma noise. That compression, which as an anecdote is becoming too common an issue around these parts lately, can blotch out fine detail and reveal frames that are softer than the ones surrounding them.
Bathed in earth tones, even if the grain structure is causing a mild suffocation, there are visual pleasantries to be had. Flesh tones take their bronzed look and run with it, warming up not only the open prairies in Africa, but Childers’ home base too. The color timing doesn’t diminish primaries so much as it tweaks them while keeping their finer qualities.
As for strict definition, Preacher has its share. Close-ups can dazzle and impress with some regularity, even if medium shots can fizzle. Those moments where you find yourself looking for high-fidelity detail are no uncommon, but the video isn’t lost either. It never unnatural or flat, just lacking a bit of punch to carry it over the edge.
Built for success via an inordinate amount of bullets, the DTS-HD track will pierce the soundfield with spot-on shot tracking and involved mixing that sprawls the open air shoot outs. Each round sounds open, not always spreading into the surrounds upon fire, but finding a home dependent on where it connects. It feels controlled, and take this recommendation to heart: turn this one up. It’s mixed low, and you’re bound to miss something if your usual dial setting isn’t sufficient enough.
Missing almost entirely is LFE accompaniment, the mixing ill-equipped to add punch to the guns or accentuate things like fire flaring up. Vehicles being blasted by rockets have no notable low end accompaniment, the puny burst of activity insufficient in setting scale. Something is certainly missing.
Preacher sticks to the action too, church services front loaded even if they spring into song. Playgrounds with cheering kids go nowhere other than the stereos, and the score is flat in terms of how it comes through the speakers. Any split into the rears is marginalized.
Director/producer Marc Forster carries an 18-minute featurette that discusses the project, the inspiration, and of course the real side of the story. Making the Music is a 14-minute piece that is as self-explanatory as they come, as is the music video that follows. Fox tacks on a couple of trailers and then calls it a day.
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