Gerard Butler plays the title role in “Machine Gun Preacher,” a true story of an outlaw biker who changed his life for the better, and finds himself on a crusade to help orphaned children of war-torn Sudan.

The stakes for the children and other innocent villagers in the Sudan are laid out clearly for us at the beginning when we see a village invaded by a small group from the militant organization called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  The LRA are bloodthirsty savages who murder, rape, pillage and cripple villagers whom they believe do not share in the LRA’s political beliefs, or simply because the LRA just wants to hurt and abuse people.  The opening sequence comes to its most graphic, sickening point when a little boy is forced to kill his mother.  This is my most memorable, movie moment of “Machine Gun Preacher.”  It is a brutal reminder of how evil people can be, and how many of us have it so good.  Complain about gas prices and the cost of bridge and tunnel tolls all you want…your problems most likely are insignificant compared to what these villagers in the Sudan go through.

This movie is also a reminder of how good people can be; and how the need and the actual work done to help people can turn into an obsession that threatens the life and spirit of the one who is doing the good deed.  Enter Butler, who we first see coming out of prison.  He is a fearsome ex-con with a red-hot temper and a taste for drugs and alcohol.  His life is one big, downward spiral, but a night of violence forces him to seek help, and he gets it in the church that his wife and child attend.

Years later, successful in every way, Butler hears a Missionary’s tale of people in Africa who desperately need help.  Butler, being the good Christian that he is, goes to Africa to do God’s work and help those who are crying for help.  He sees first hand the damage that the LRA have done, especially to the children.  Butler raises money from donations he gets from the church he built back in his home state of Pennsylvania — along with money from his savings and construction business — to build a church, a playground, and an orphanage for children in the Sudan.  The threats of attacks from the LRA are constant; and Butler turns from a preacher/missionary into an assault rifle-carrying preacher who will kill any two-legged animal who tries to harm his flock.  Amen.

It’s a bit hard to take, but “MGP” is worth watching.  Technically, it falls a bit flat when it comes to pacing, and that’s due to the constant trips Butler takes back and forth to and from Africa.  I know why it was done — the movie has to show us the strain on Butler’s relationship with his family in the U.S. — and it may have happened that way in real life; but real life is unstructured, and movies have a basic, three act structure.  Any “based on a true story” movie that follows too closely to the structure of what really happened usually fails at holding a pace that keeps the audience riveted to their seats.

“Machine Gun Preacher” is a movie that lowers and uplifts your spirits, in some cases at the same time.  Knowing that the violence inflicted on the Sudanese civilians as depicted in this movie is still happening gives “Machine Gun Preacher” a greater importance.  We are not just watching the past, we are also watching the present and the future.   A real downer, huh?  Ah, don’t worry.  If you’re like most people, soon after viewing this movie you’ll be back to being preoccupied with your daily worries and forget that every day tens of thousands of people all over the world are being brutalized.  I’m ashamed to say…I’m like most people.