But the worthy story is packed with scenes that are suspenseful and inspiring.
Sam Childers (Butler) is at the end of his rope: just out of prison, still caught up in a wasted criminal life with pal Donnie (Shannon), and neglecting his wife Lynn (Monaghan) and their daughter Paige (Campos, then Carroll). Then at rock-bottom, Lynn's faith gets through to him, and he changes his life.
After volunteering to help refugees in Uganda, he becomes obsessed with the plight of orphans in Southern Sudan. But in an effort to rescue this generation of kids at risk, he again begins to neglect his family.
Butler dives into the role with Rambo-style masculinity while letting us see the sensitive man inside. Even when he's out brutishly saving the world, this fragility makes him engaging. It's one of Butler's most interesting (and least cloying) performances, and it echoes director Forster's tough-sensitive portrayals of men in films from Monster's Ball to Quantum of Solace. Although this script isn't as tight as those.
The story is a riot of violent encounters and momentous events. It races through Sam's life, rarely letting the character breathe. Some judicious story editing could have shaped the plot so that it built to some sort of climax.
Instead we get one horrific or emotional moment after another. Children are massacred in Sudan! A tornado strikes the family home in America! A landmine explodes! Sam rescues Donnie from a squalid drug den! Warlords launch another full-on assault of the orphanage!
These scenes are sharply directed and played with an earthy sense of realism, but they don't weave together into a satisfying story. Sam's family resents his work in Sudan, but he never takes them to see it for themselves (oddly, real-life scenes during the final credits reveal that this isn't true). And the cycles of fund-raising in America and ambush-battling in Africa become so repetitive that the film drags badly. Which is a shame since this is a strong story well worth telling.
Run time: 129 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 2nd November 2011
Box Office USA: $0.5M
Box Office Worldwide: $2.5M
Distributed by: Relativity Media
Production compaines: Virgin Produced, Relativity Media, Mpower Pictures, Apparatus Productions, GG Filmz, 1984 Private Defense Contractors, ITS Capital, Merlina Entertainment, MGP Productions, Moonlighting Films, Safady Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 29%
Fresh: 32 Rotten: 79
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: Marc Forster
Producer: Robbie Brenner, Craig Chapman, Marc Forster, Deborah Giarratana, Gary Safady
Screenwriter: Jason Keller
Starring: Gerard Butler as Sam Childers, Michelle Monaghan as Lynn, Justin Michael Brandt as Teenage Boy, Richard Goteri as Gun Shop Owner, Peter Carey as Bill Wallace, Brett Wagner as Ben Hobbs, Barbara Coven as Shannon Wallace, Kathy Baker as Daisy, Michael Shannon as Donnie, Ryann Campos as Paige #1, Madeline Carroll as Paige #2, Souleymane Sy Savane as Deng, Grant R. Krause as Billy / Contractor, Reavis Graham as Pastor Krause