A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this fact-based drama set mostly in war-torn Sudan includes several combat sequences and some especially gruesome images featuring torture victims. The main character (played by Gerard Butler) transforms from a biker-gang thug into a religious man over the course of the movie. He also swears constantly ("f--k," "c--ksucker," etc.), drinks heavily, and, in the beginning, shoots heroin. It's an inspiring story, though not a pretty one.
What's the story?
When we first meet Sam Childers (Gerard Butler), he's getting out of prison. In short order, he comes scary-close to beating his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and then heads to a bar to get drunk and shoot heroin with his old pal (Michael Shannon). He's not a nice guy. But after finally reaching rock bottom, he finds Jesus and becomes a devoted family man. A chance encounter with a missionary just back from Africa intrigues him, and Sam volunteers to visit Uganda and help with a construction project. From there it's a short trip to southern Sudan, where he's overcome by the plight of children who've been orphaned by a long-running civil war. Sam decides to dedicate himself to building an orphanage and church to help them and to take up a rifle to help fight the brutal rebels –- he becomes the MACHINE GUN PREACHER.
Is it any good?
This is an inspiring tale based on a true story, but it's not a good movie. There's nothing subtle about the way it characterizes Sam. First he's really, really nasty. What viewer will sympathize with someone who screams terrible epithets at his wife in front of their young daughter? But once he becomes a good guy, he's really, really nice. The rebels in Africa: very bad. The soldiers fighting them: definitely in the right, but outgunned and sorely in need of support.
Of course Sam will help them. It's the right thing to do, at least in this movie where there are no shades of gray. The truth may be somewhere in the middle, and at least one minor character calls him on it, labeling him a mercenary. But she's eventually taught a lesson by the rebels, so we know not to take her dissenting views too seriously. The film tells us almost nothing about the political situation in Sudan, but the fictional Sam Childers sure makes the real one seem like a noble fellow.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Sam's story. What do you think about his transformation over the course of the story? Does the movie make more of an impact because it's based on a real person's life?
What is the movie's message about violence? How does Sam's decision to join in the warfare affect this message? What, if anything, did you learn about the political situation of Sudan in the real world?
- In theaters: September 23, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: June 5, 2012
- Cast: Gerard Butler, Michael Shannon, Michelle Monaghan
- Director: Marc Forster
- Studio: Relativity Media
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 123 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violent content including disturbing images, language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality
For kids who love true stories
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.