Metro In Focus: Why moviegoers love to hate Gerard Butler

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 9.08.36 AMBy Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

Last week as I fought traffic en route to a London Has Fallen screening, I tweeted from the back of a cab, “Out of my way people! I’m running late for a Gerard Butler movie!” It was a silly little joke, a comment to kill time as we idled in the morning rush hour.

The first response came in right away: “said no one, ever,” followed by a torrent of unexpected Butler hate.

One person called him a “bouncer actor,” whatever that means.

Another questioned his ability to effectively disguise his native Scottish accent and many people offered me their condolences.

Why the Butler bashing?

It’s true he is a frustrating movie star. He shares the usual leading man traits that have made Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio superstars.

He’s handsome, talented and built like an action star but he’s been done in time after time by poor choices.

Pitt makes Fight Club, Butler makes Law Abiding Citizen. Leo stars in The Departed, Gerard does Machine Gun Preacher. Years ago the website Gawker placed Butler on movie star probation, calling him a “professional bad decision maker” alongside notable career fritterers Cuba Gooding Jr. and John Travolta. A look at his IMDB page suggests they were on to something.

He’s a utility player, comfortable switching genres the way most of us change our socks. One minute he’s a romantic comedy star, the next he’s choking out bad guys on screen. He’s flirted with Shakespeare and provided voices for cartoons. He’s done sci-fi flicks, musicals and even a rendering of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf.

It’s not like he hasn’t enjoyed some very big hits. In 300 he (and his meticulously crafted six-pack) played King Leonidas, a Spartan who led 300 soldiers against the might of the Persian army. It’s the film equivalent of a heavy metal concert — loud, brutal and completely uncompromising — and it made him an action hero.

People have a soft spot for Dear Frankie, his breakout film and the one that turned him into a heartthrob with serious dramatic chops. The four-hankie U.K. tear-jerker about a single mother who resorts to trickery to keep the memory of her late husband alive in her son’s mind put Butler on the world stage.

Other box office bonanzas include playing a charming mobster in the violent Guy Ritchie flick RocknRolla and voicing Viking Stoick the Vast in How to Train Your Dragon.

It’s the other stuff that seems to rub people the wrong way. As a movie reviewer I can attest there are few English language words more terrifying than “New Gerard Butler Romantic Comedy” and I think it is those films that turned my Twitter followers against him.

He’s a good actor but his track record in the rom-com department is particularly grim. Critics hate these movies, calling the handsome Scottish actor’s attempts at mixing love and comedy, “instantly grating,” and “embarrassingly limited.”

But I come to praise Butler, not to bury him. Let’s give him another chance.

I made it to the London Has Fallen screening and can tell you it’s a pretty good action movie. Perhaps even good enough to erase the memory of The Ugly Truth or Playing for Keeps from our collective memories.


machine-gun-preacher-poster“Machine Gun Preacher” is set in a world where the line between mercenary and humanitarian is very thin. Gerard Butler plays the title character, a man who preaches fire-and-brimstone and can shoot the tail feathers off an ostrich at fifty yards.

When we first meet Sam Childers (Butler) he’s a tough guy fresh out of jail. He finds that old habits die hard—especially old drug habits. When his hell raising ways catch up to him something remarkable happens; he finds God. The former biker shifts gears and becomes a model citizen, even funding and building his own church. A sermon about the plight of Sudanese children prompts him to become a crusader for thousands of orphaned African children. He earns a reputation as a gun toting savior but his faith is severely tested when all his efforts to save the children seem to be for naught.

“Machine Gun Preacher” is based on the real life story of Sam Childers, a former trigger-happy biker who founded the Angels of East Africa orphanage. It’s a very compelling story, almost in the territory of stranger than fiction, but this fellow’s colorful life hits a few rocky patches in its translation to the screen.

In an effort to hit all high points of Childers’s life director Marc “Monster’s Ball” Forster speeds through the early part of the story, the transformation from hellion to angel, very quickly. The conversion is a crucial plot point and if we don’t buy into it we’ll have a hard time being on side for the rest of the story.

The rest of the movie skips and jumps around as well, as though it was cut down from a much longer movie. Luckily it moves along at such a clip that the strange blend of revenge and religion is never given the chance to settle for too long. That’s a good thing because it’s an uncomfortable mix. One minute he’s preaching, the next he’s gunning down Sudanese rebels. He’s Rambo with a bible.

The movie is inspirational and shines a light on some poignant issues, but feels more movie-of-the-week than serious drama about a man’s transformation.

Butler brings some intensity to the role, but Michael Shannon and Michelle Monaghan, as the junkie biker who learns to walk a different path and the born again ex-junkie stripper wife respectively, are wasted in roles that give them little to do.

“Machine Gun Preacher” suffers from playing fast and loose with the events that lead up to the story’s main thrust—one man’s ability to change not only his life, but the lives of people around him—and as a result the transformation doesn’t have the impact it should.