The Rugged Priest: More than just another ‘machine gun preacher film’

By Monica Obaga,

When politically motivated violence breaks out in a Rift Valley town, a priest commits to not only serve but also protect. His actions get him transferred to a small, remote village where his adopted son, also a priest and a woman from their past meet again for the first time in ten years. Armed with just a rosary and an old rifle, the priest works to bring the perpetrators to justice while his son tries to keep him safe.

The film is based on the alleged murder of a Minnesota Catholic priest, Father John Kaiser in August 2000 that is thought to be politically motivated. It opens on a cold, rainy night, with handheld camera footage, setting the grittier tone of
the film. There is no opportunity wasted, however, to show off the lush backdrop that is the Rift Valley, even during thrilling car chases.

Even though the film is named for the main character and essentially celebrating him as hero, it threaded multiple narrative arcs, with an equally important priest, love story, and the case against corrupt officials.

Colin’s Father Kalser tempers his unstoppable, gun-toting crazy with a surprising sweetness and vulnerability. There is no backstory, as the film assumes the audience is familiar with Kaiser, so be prepared to do some reading to understand his motivation. Lwanda and Serah’s Father Ian and Alice had great chemistry but were denied opportunities to show range when important moments happened off screen or would lose momentum when his character chose his father over her with no tension. The Shakespearean three witches, gleeful henchmen hired by the corrupt official, are not subtle at all but useful in maintaining the high stakes that keep the film exciting throughout.

I’m also glad to note that the agency of the victims is never sacrificed. They fight back as much as they can and even testify as witnesses. The characters all have a story arc with many of the adapted subplots maintaining some truth to what is known of the original case.

This is not just another ‘machine gun preacher’ type film. Kenya and Kenyans are
definitely stars, so sit down and pass the popcorn.

Watch The Rugged Priest and other African films on Buni +


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