Coming to theaters next month, Machine Gun Preacheris a movie that will appeal to some Christians because of its subject matter. It will also turn off some Christians . . . because of its subject matter.
The movie, opening in limited release on September 23, is based on the true story of Sam Childers, a drug-dealing hell raiser as a teen and young man who began to turn his life around after finding Jesus. Today, he spends much of his time in Sudan and neighboring countries, allegedly fighting pockets of the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) with his own band of gun-toting rebels while sweeping up orphans who have been left behind – and then putting them into orphanages that he has built in the area.
Some Christians will love the film for showing Childers' path from rebellion to redemption. Others may avoid it for the same reason; the first 15-20 minutes are as in-your-face and gritty as anything you'll see in an R-rated movie (which it is), with a sex scene, drug dealing (and taking), brutal violence, and foul language. Even after Childers – played terrifically by Gerard Butler – finds God, he's still got some rough edges, and his flaws stick with him through the rest of the movie. Sounds pretty realistic to me, and I appreciate the filmmakers' boldness in showing those character flaws. But it's also a bit much for the "safe-for-the-whole-family" folks who prefer their "Christian" movies to be G-rated fare.
Relativity Media, which is distributing the Marc Forster-directed film, realizes this, but knows it's also got a film on its hands that can have terrific crossover appeal – for Christians because of the redemptive arc of the tale, and for secular audiences who appreciate character development woven into what is in many ways an action movie, with Childers as its real-life action hero.
In an attempt to reach both audiences, Relativity has released mainstream and faith-based versions of the movie poster. They also plan to release "exclusive" clips for the faith-based market in a week or so. Stay tuned.
Here are the two posters – "secular" on the left, "faith-based" on the right. Both include the phrase, "Hope is the greatest weapon of all." In the latter, the cross motif is evident, but seems forced, especially as it cuts off Butler's forehead. But there seems to be a clear focus on the children – the main motivation for Childers' work – in the background.
Finally, here's the trailer: