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Midway through Gerard Butler’s new movie, “Kandahar,” is maybe the coolest sequence I have ever seen in a Gerard Butler movie. It’s the middle of the night in the middle of a desert, and Butler’s C.I.A.-operative character is racing with his Afghan translator to a distant extraction point. Because they are trying to avoid Pakistani, Iranian and Taliban bad guys who are pursuing them, their lights are off, and Butler’s character is wearing a pair of very stupid-looking infrared goggles. Suddenly there is a sound, one we only learn is a helicopter when those loopy goggles alight on it. The lengthy firefight that ensues is mostly just flashes in the darkness with occasional infrared — a beautiful tableau, like a Vija Celmins painting, that feels weird to enjoy only if you look too closely.
Butler’s movies are best when you don’t look too closely. This is already the second one gifted to us this year. I say “gifted” because it truly is a gift, in 2023, to receive such films — throwbacks not only to late-1980s action movies but to their stars, actors like Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson. In a market saturated by superheroes, Butler has been making nostalgic, midbudget action films so steadily, for so long, that he has perfected his own formula. A middle-aged Everyman (made of “bourbon and poor choices,” per his character in one series), often with military training, goes rogue against a system that is failing to protect his family or his translator or the president. These movies may be, like much of their genre, unseasonably macho, riddled with casual brutality and kind of misogynistic; they have also been accused of varying degrees of racism, jingoism and xenophobia. But their appeal is broader than you might think. Butler’s main concern is not necessarily ideological. He’s interested in nobility, loyalty, courage and strength — qualities that, in Hollywood, often manifest in martial form. And it’s through this faithful portrayal of a rumpled-but-honorable masculinity, in rotating all-American settings, that a Scottish dude has become a kind of heartland hero.
His breakthrough was “300,” Zack Snyder’s live-action adaptation of Frank Miller’s own graphic retelling of the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae, in which a meager Greek army fought to the death against a Persian onslaught. This 2006 movie birthed not only the archetypal Butler action hero, his Spartan King Leonidas, but also the type of film that would contain him. “300” had the velveteen look of a Caravaggio, but all the depth of a soup can. It leaned into religious and mythic iconography — Leonidas succumbs, at the end, surrounded by his soldiers, riddled with arrows like some mash-up of St. Sebastian and the Sistine Chapel’s “The Last Judgment.” Butler, in baby bangs and sprayed-on abs and a brogue reminiscent of Tony Curtis in “Spartacus,” sold the display like a pro. No matter how savage he got, there was always some puckish humanity flickering across his face — like the scene in “Point Break” in which Keanu Reeves catches a glimpse of Patrick Swayze’s gentle eyes behind his mask and doesn’t shoot.
Butler has been making nostalgic, midbudget action films so steadily, for so long, that he has perfected his own formula.
Images and themes from “300” recur across Butler’s films. There’s loyalty to the homeland and its defenders, the passing of “respect and honor” from father to son, soft homophobia toward “philosophers and boy-lovers” by half-naked alpha males, stoicism, nurturing women, “no mercy” conflicts with foreigners, heroic sacrifice, David-and-Goliath battles. “I’m just a law-abiding citizen — I’m just a regular guy,” Butler says in “Law-Abiding Citizen,” which came out three years after “300.” In that one, an engineer named Clyde Shelton sees his wife and daughter killed in front of him, but the biggest wound comes from the justice system, via a prosecutor played by Jamie Foxx. Clyde responds with a bit of a killing spree, pledging to bring the whole “diseased corrupt temple” down on the lawyer’s head — “It’s gonna be biblical.”
It’s the trilogy of “Olympus Has Fallen,” “London Has Fallen” and “Angel Has Fallen,” with their combined box office of $522 million, that consolidated Butler’s brand as the kind of modest action star who has largely gone missing from theaters. In these movies, the Secret Service agent Mike Banning, growing increasingly broken down over time, protects the president from various disposable terrorists. He runs on steaks, and later on painkillers, and always ends up battered, emerging into the light propping up a commander in chief who says something like: “They came to desecrate our way of life. To foul our beliefs. Trample our freedom. And in this, not only did they fail, they granted us the greatest gift — a chance at our rebirth.”
If this sounds as if it springs from a conservative imagination, well, the franchise’s multicultural goons and deep-state conspiracies would certainly be familiar to that audience. But while Butler is the kind of guy who gets invited to the Pentagon to promote a thriller about Navy SEALs, his stance on these films is more rough and ready. Facing criticism for “London Has Fallen,” he argued at the premiere that “It’s about us winning” and “It’s based on heroism and the good guys kicking ass.” This generalized machismo maintains its appeal even when his films veer more mainstream — dropping the jingoism for “Angel Has Fallen” or, in 2017’s “Geostorm,” taking a cuckoo disaster-movie ride. In 2018’s “Den of Thieves,” where the masculinity is just dense enough to dilute the toxicity, he plays a leather-clad cop who swigs Pepto like whiskey and works to bring down some ex-Marines who aim to rob the Federal Reserve. In “Greenland,” he’s another engineer in another disaster, racing to get his family to a bunker (and refusing, in individualist American fashion, to help his neighbors). This January’s “Plane” was positively communist by comparison, with the tagline “survive together or die alone.” In that one, he’s a commercial pilot with an Air Force background whose jet crashes on a Filipino island held by separatists. There remain the obvious conservative themes — untrustworthy superiors, renegade saviors, barbaric foreigners — but it’s perfect all-audiences Butler, a propulsive popcorn flick with a righteous core.
Maybe it’s inevitable that the same guy who keeps revolting onscreen would do the same off it. Butler hasn’t appeared on a mainstream magazine cover since 2018. He seems to have smarted a little when, in a January interview, Inverse called him “the King of the B-movie” to his face. He knows he has a large audience, but I wonder if he knows quite how much good will he has accumulated. In “Kandahar,” he plays an undercover operative exposed by a leak “bigger than Snowden and WikiLeaks combined,” in a script packed with “free world” jokes and aphorisms like “you have to return home to know what you are fighting for.” But I genuinely felt chills at the ending, a lachrymose montage in which the blue-eyed soul of Tom Rhodes’s “Low Tide” plays over shots of Butler and his translator, finally safe, intercut with sentimental scenes of their loved ones. It’s cheap, but there’s a good heart in there, and that’s hard to come by these days.
Source photographs: Open Road Films; Focus Features; Lionsgate; FilmDistrict.
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FAQsWhat is Gerard Butler in? ›
In recent years, he has appeared in films such as Gods of Egypt (2016), Geostorm (2017), Den of Thieves (2018), The Vanishing (2018) and Hunter Killer (2018). Butler is related to writer-director Mark Flood.What world ending movies is Gerard Butler in? ›
6 'Greenland' (2020)
Gerard Butler produces and stars in this 2020 disaster action film. Directed by Rick Roman Waugh, Greenland follows the Garrity family through the ensuing chaos upon the anticipation of impact from a planet-killing comet heading straight for earth.
Gerard Butler's net worth in 2023 (estimate): $80 million. Gerard Butler's net worth is somewhat expected, as it is estimated to be around $80 million, according to outlets such as Celebrity Net Worth.Did Jennifer Aniston date Gerard Butler? ›
Aniston quietly dated Gerard Butler in 2009 while filming "The Bounty Hunter," though their romance was short-lived, per Us Weekly.Who is the male actor that looks like Gerard Butler? ›
Gerard Butler and Clive Owen
Both actors look alike and could even be mistaken for brothers – and the slight 5 year age gap between them further cements any comparison. There are, however, some clear differences that will help you tell each other apart. For one, Butler is Scottish, while Owen is English.
When his wife suddenly vanishes at a gas station, an ordinary man takes extraordinary measures to find her even as he himself falls under suspicion. Watch all you want. Gerard Butler stars in this tense action thriller with Jaimie Alexander, Russell Hornsby and Ethan Embry.What is the new Gerard Butler movie called? ›
Scripted by Mitchell LaFortune and the director, Kandahar has the following synopsis: Tom Harris (Gerard Butler), an undercover CIA operative, is stuck deep in hostile territory in Afghanistan.What is the world's end movie about? › What kind of car does Gerard Butler drive? ›
Gerard owns a Mercedes-Benz S Class from 2010, and it is famous for its engine performance. The Mercedes S400 is a fullsize sedan, and Butler has it in white. The cabin is comfortable and silent, and the technology is more than adequate. The sedan is quite fuel efficient, and it offers impressive handling.
Who is the number one richest actor in the world? Currently, Jami Gertz is the richest actor in the world with a net worth of $3 billion.Does Gerard Butler have a law degree? ›
Butler studied law at the University of Glasgow and served as the law society's president before landing the role of King Leonidas of Sparta in the movie 300. After completing his legal studies, he began acting in the mid-1990s and gained prominence as the star of films like "300" and "White House Down."
Butler's training for 300 simultaneously built muscle, increased muscular endurance, and stripped fat fast. To achieve movie muscles that pop, he and other cast members used this gruelling, unorthodox 300-rep rite of passage.Did Gerard Butler have a son? ›
While Butler doesn't have any children of his own, the actor, 47, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue that he'd like to become a father in the not too distant future. “In five years I want to be in a relationship,” Butler says.What is Gerard Butler's new film called? ›
So when you hear that the new Gerard Butler film is called “Plane,” you'd be forgiven for thinking that you can run the entire movie through your head in the blink of an eye.Is Gerard Butler his real name? ›
Gerard Butler, in full Gerard James Butler, (born November 13, 1969, Glasgow, Scotland), Scottish actor, distinguished by his rugged masculinity and charm, who often appeared as larger-than-life literary and historical figures.How did the 300 actors get so ripped? ›
He told the trade that he worked out six hours a day to prepare for the ad-ripped role. That included two hours of CrossFit training, two hours of bodybuilding, and two hours of fight training. (L-R) Zack Snyder and Gerard Butler on the set of "300." Warner Bros.What did Gerard Butler weigh in 300? ›
Gerard Butler Weight and Height For 300
Gerard Butler measures 6'2″ (188 cm) tall, and his weight is 190 pounds (86kg). For the movie “300”, Gerard Butler lost fat and gained muscle. He got up to 200 pounds (91kg) for “300.”
Airon Armstrong is a stunt performer and actor who served as a stunt double for Gerard Butler in Olympus Has Fallen.
Gerard Butler gives us a peek at his new chest tattoo while going for a bike ride on Monday (February 20) in Cancun, Mexico. The 47-year-old actor, who appears to have a cross tattooed on the top of his chest, was joined by his on-again girlfriend Morgan Brown.Why is Gerard Butler still single? ›
The actor explained that his successful career is partly to blame for his then-lack of relationships. "It's harder to be in a relationship in this industry. It's partly my own fault, and partly the nature of the beast," he stated. "It's hard when you are leaving all the time.Where does Gerard Butler live now? › Does Gerard Butler have any kids? ›
Does Gerard Butler have kids? No, he doesn't have kids.What watch is Gerard Butler wearing in the movie Plane? ›
Gerard Butler wears a Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Chronograph WorldTime on the poster for the movie Plane.Why is Plane rated R? ›
Violence & Scariness
Scenes with violence and blood, death, and peril, including a plane crash, kidnapping, and torture.