Monday, June 20, 2011

Movie Web Monday: Gerard Butler

Movie Web Monday: Each week, I'll look at a specific actor's roles across three good movies. The third movie will in turn tie into the first movie of the next week's actor, whose third movie will continue the pattern. I will go through actors and movies at this rate, with the following limitations in mind: every movie(or television show) invoked will be one I either own, or wish to own; no movie or actor will be invoked twice. So sit back and enjoy as you fall into the nerdery's movie web. (Oh, and I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, telling you just enough to know if you'll enjoy the movie)

Gerard Butler: Brogue Hero

Movie: Timeline (Own it, though it is still MIA) SPOILERS SHALL FLOW

As I said before, Timeline is definitely one of the better Crichton movies. It's got a kinetic energy and eclectic cast that makes it feel like a mainstream popcorn movie--which is rare amongst the author's movie adaptations. Probably the heaviest hitter of the cast, Gerard Butler certainly leads much of Timeline's best scenes with a combination of his trademark Scottish charm and fearful combat sequences.  As Andre Marek, Butler plays an archeologist with a love for the practical elements of medieval living and fighting, and as such he is the most capable character amongst the generally outclassed academics. That's not to say he comes across as being particularly capable in a fight--one of the refreshing traits of Timeline is the fact that all of the action set-pieces showcase desperate, frightened fights. Marek's first kill in the movie starts as ambushing a soldier and becomes a savage wrestling match before he guts the nameless enemy. Butler gives the first act of violence particular vitality with his tearful performance, reminding the audience that these are scholars, not soldiers, and that being forced to fight and kill takes its toll on them.

At the film's climax, Butler gets the chance to scream four syllables and then get a dramatic action-movie worthy kill. However, since this isn't the atrocious 300, the moment has some subtle elation behind its screaming fury. Marek comes to the abrupt realization, after receiving a distinctive wound, that he had already seen evidence from the future that he'd win the fight, and his reaction is heavy-laden with the relief, pain, and anger that you'd imagine Marek feels at that moment.

In addition to being such a powerful-but-well-realized protagonist, Gerard Butler's character helps to ground the movie with a likable character throughout the feature. Paul Walker, as the main protagonist, is vain and childish throughout most of the movie, and hence too annoying to carry the film in my estimation. David Thewlis, Michael Sheen, and Celeborn Marton Csokas are fantastic antagonists, though, and with a strong, charismatic, and pro-active Gerard Butler opposite them, the movie works despite its other minor failings.

Movie: Reign of Fire (Renting it for the umpteenth time) minor spoilers below

Gerard Butler's character in Reign of Fire, on the other hand, offers a distinctly different set of assets to the post-draconic apocalypse. He's still a grounded, likable character with a thick accent and according social pull in the setting, but in this one he's a reactive, physically passive character. He plays Creedy, best friend to main character Quinn (played by Christian Bale) and right-hand man when it comes to running their castle of English survivors. Now in this sort of genre movie, there usually has to be a Schlub character. The Schlub is either ignorant, thick, or overly diplomatic--any of these can serve as a narrative excuse to have characters explain the basics of the setting. The ignorant Schlub is commonly the fish-out-of-water, either because he's a new recruit or stranded out of his natural dimension, timeline, or world. A stupid Schlub, similarly, is thick or obtuse enough that people have to explain the basics of society to him--either to genuinely set him straight on how the spaceship or whatever works or to insult his intelligence. The charismatic Schlub is a bit more rare, but he normally feels the most natural in a genre film. The charismatic Schlub prefers to reason with people, and in so doing he lets slip basic information about the setting, usually in the context of reiterating common ground for the other party to agree upon.

In Reign of Fire, Gerard Butler's Creedy is a Schlub of the charismatic persuasion. In his first scene, Creedy arrives in the middle of a fight between Quinn and a dissenting citizen of their castle, which sheds a little light on the survivors' informal compact. Later, when Quinn entertains some American soldiers in their castle, Creedy argues in favor of isolation, and in so doing he offers a litany of the marauding human elements that they've had to fear in the past. And his character's role as Schlub is cemented by the fact that when Creedy dies, there is no longer any expository information being offered--leaving only the climax of the action and the personal conflict to be resolved.

But the necessity of Creedy as an exposition element doesn't detract from the enjoyable, personable texture he lends to the film. He's a generally friendly character, and his off-hand politeness to the imposing Americans or the pig-headed dissenters in the first part of the film help to make the audience appreciate that Creedy really helped hold the castle together through the force of his personality. This is apparent at the grinning skepticism he offers when the Americans explain how their parachutists use nets during free-fall to snare dragons.

Movie: Beowulf and Grendel (Own it)

There are several iterations of the Beowulf saga in film today. Most of them are loose adaptations of the epic poem, and one of them is terrible despite the winning element of a monster with a deformed ear-drum weakness (I poop on you, Robert Zemeckis' Beowulf!). But the small Danish production Beowulf and Grendel, while taking a number of liberties with the source, is probably one of the more accurate depictions of the first piece of English literature. Gerard Butler plays the title hero of the movie, and it's immediately apparent that he is a more humble, understated, and approachable interpretation of Beowulf.

Butler's Beowulf is a very real character, and he's caught between the violent realities of his cultural vocation and his own philosophical doubts. But there's still a rich veracity of the role and the plot that makes the audience feel that these realistic events could have inspired the outrageous action of the poem. The script is great, filled with a combination of more modern sarcastic sentiment with archaic-sounding florid language that is delivered flawlessly by the cast--especially Gerard Butler. When Beowulf pledges himself to his quest to go to Daneland and hunt the troll there, the moment is superbly delivered:

The followup line hints at the ancient boasting standard that is prevalent in the source material. Drawing his sword, Beowulf pledges to increase the fame of his Geatland countrymen: "So that Danes may see that Geats don't wield words where swords speak truer." I love the language of this film. Even when it's offensively crass--which it is at several points--it still manages to excite the literary senses without feeling as contrived as the fixed meter of the original poem. The film's rather original and occasionally heavy-handed subtext of revenge and bigotry is not entirely to the piece's detriment, and Butler's consistently conflicted portrayal of the lead character never ceases to sell the themes of the movie.

Movie Web Monday will continue next week with a new actor, picking up with some other prolific player from the last movie listed above.


  1. You make me want to watch each of these over again; especially paying more attention to the language in Beowulf & Grendel.

  2. The scene in B&G where he washes up on the beach and discusses mortality with the fisherman is some of the my favorite dialogue in movies....