Gerard Butler has a new movie that comes out on Friday. It’s called Angel Has Fallen. It’s the third movie in the Fallen franchise. Butler has played Secret Service agent Mike Banning in all three of them. While it’s not his best role (that’d be when he played King Leonidas in 300), and while it’s not his most visceral role (that’d be when he played Big Nick O’Brien in Den of Thieves), and while it’s not his most line-for-line enjoyable role (that’d be when he played murder mastermind Clyde Shelton in Law Abiding Citizen), it’s his most consistent role.
I wonder whether that’s because he likes it the most (killing bad guys and saving important people seems like a fun way to spend a few hours each day for a few months). Or I wonder whether it’s because he sees the most of himself in it (a fiercely loyal and noble arbiter of reactionary chaos). Or I wonder whether it’s because of something far more simple and practical (like maybe he finds it the easiest role to play, or maybe the money is good, or maybe it’s some combination of things I’ve not even considered). (In the latest Fallen movie, his character is framed for an assassination attempt on the president.) I don’t know. It’s hard to say. And, really, it doesn’t even matter. Because Angel Has Fallen is here now. And I’m going to watch it.
I enjoy Gerard Butler. He’s an interesting movie star to think about, and to consider, and to try to contextualize. He has a unique ability to bend things so that they take on his shape, and his essence. And it’s weird because usually when someone can do something like that, it’s because they’re just so undeniably talented that it happens almost unintentionally. (Denzel Washington as an actor is an obvious example of this happening. So is Meryl Streep. That’s why any time she did something in this most recent season of Big Little Lies, it was never, “Did you see what Mary Louise did in Big Little Lies?!” It was always, “Did you see what Meryl Streep did in Big Little Lies?!” And I know those are two easy examples to throw out there, what with them being two of the all-time greatest actors we’ve ever had, but you get the point.)
With Butler, though, it’s different. It feels intentional. It feels like he’s trying to do it on purpose. His movies always feel like he showed up to the set each day and was like, “I’m going to make this movie an italicized, all-caps GERARD BUTLER movie.”
The only time I can remember watching a movie he had a major part in and not thinking of it specifically as a Gerard Butler movie was back when 300 came out in 2006. And the only reason I felt like that then was because I didn’t really know who he was. In the years since its release, it absolutely has become a Gerard Butler movie, same as P.S. I Love You (a movie in which he sends letters to his widowed wife from the grave) or Geostorm (a movie in which he has to save the planet from man-made natural disasters) or Gamer (a movie in which he is a real-life video game avatar). It’s just what he does. And if a director is clever enough to figure out ways to lean into it, then awesome.
Let’s say that we’re at a dinner party and we’re to the point of the evening when all of the people have broken off into different groups and are talking about different things. And let’s say that the group you and I have ended up in is six people deep. It’s me, and it’s you, and it’s two people who have seen a couple of Gerard Butler movies, and it’s two people have not seen any Gerard Butler movies. And let’s say that, since Gerard Butler has a new movie coming out, the conversation momentarily becomes about him, and about his movies, and about his skill as an actor.
If, only within the parameters of our specific group, I said something like, “Gerard Butler as an actor is like if a bottle of Axe body spray was a little bit drunk,” the two people who have not seen any Gerard Butler movies would be like, “... What,” while the two people who have seen some Gerard Butler movies would be like, “I know exactly what you’re talking about.” That’s my favorite thing about Gerard Butler, probably.
That, and his accent.
That, and his accent, and his face when he turns it to stone when he’s mad.
Those three things.
The first Fallen movie was called Olympus Has Fallen (2013). It was good and fun to watch, if for no other reason than because it was clear that they were like, “Hey, let’s try to make a new Die Hard, but let’s make it even more violent.” An easy way to talk about the kind of movie it is would be to point out an interaction that happens 90 minutes in. Butler, after having killed a big number of bad guys, is talking to the main bad guy via a video transmission. (The main bad guy, PLAYED BY JOHNNY TRAN FROM THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, is locked away in a bunker underneath the White House with the president as his hostage.)
Butler says this to him at the end of their conversation: “My advice: Save the last bullet for yourself. Because if you don’t, I’m gonna stick my knife through your brain.” Guess how the movie ends: It ends with Gerard Butler sticking his knife through the main bad guy’s brain. That’s the kind of movie it is. And that’s my fourth favorite thing about Gerard Butler. I really like when he tells people what he’s going to do in a movie. It’s what made 300 so gripping. And what made Law Abiding Citizen so mesmerizing.
The single best acting moment in Gerard Butler’s career happens in Law Abiding Citizen, which is a movie where he decides to go on a killing rampage because he believes the judicial branch of the government needs to be upended and reconstituted. (He feels that way because he believes the two people who broke into his home and killed his wife and his child were not issued the sentences they deserved.)
After Butler kills the two men in question, he allows himself to be arrested. During the bail hearing, the prosecuting attorney (Jamie Foxx as Nick Rice) argues that Butler should not be granted bail. The judge asks Butler whether he has anything to say, and so Butler stands up and gives a very convincing speech about how it would be unconstitutional for them to not allow him bail because (a) this is his first alleged offense, and (b) the prosecution has not presented any evidence implicating him in the crime. The judge agrees, and as the prosecution makes a final attempt to convince her otherwise, Butler starts to clap. The judge, confused, asks, “Excuse me?” And Butler, who has led her right into his trap, says, “No. I don’t think I will excuse you,” and then launches into a monologue about how of course he’s guilty, and how of course he shouldn’t be allowed out on bail, and how of course everyone in the American court system is a fucking idiot. He just gets more venomous and more venomous and more venomous. And it’s a great turn that he makes, switching from earnestly trying to defend himself in court to setting fire to everything in front of him.
That’s not the best part, though. Because the best part is the very end, and it’s this teeny-tiny thing that happens that you don’t even catch until your second or third or fourth viewing.
Because as the cops are forcibly removing him from the courtroom, and he’s just fully frothing and hollering and causing all manner of mayhem, we get a zoomed-out shot of everything. And right then, right as everyone is trying to get their feet back under themselves, you hear Butler stop yelling and, in a very calm voice, say to Jamie Foxx, “Hey, see ya later, Nick.” It’s a quick line and a little line, but it’s funny every time, and so very clearly an example of an actor who is not only having a great time at work, but also one who knows he’s just put his stamp on a movie while a guy who’s won an Oscar for Best Actor does all he can just to keep from getting exploded to smithereens.