Since 2017, Midwest Film Journal has prided itself on delivering thoughtful commentary on current and classic cinema. No one piece has persisted as powerfully as our 2018 review of Den of Thieves, which we called an “unswervingly painful” waste of 140 minutes.
SEO tells us the piece’s popularity is thanks to its reference of one character’s inscrutable “Peckerwood” tattoo. Instinct tells us otherwise: People really love Gerard Butler.
Disfigured catacomb vocalist. Ripped Spartan warrior. Machine gun preacher. Secretly sweet lothario. Donut-housing cop. Dragon-slaying hero. HMS Devonshire crewman. Angry little leprechaun. Stalwart hunter killer. Geostorm-stopping scientist. Vengeful Egyptian god.
That’s but a small sampling of this Scottish export’s quarter-century run — whose body of work was highlighted biweekly on this site in April 2019 in a series from which three essays (including a second opinion on Den of Thieves) also entered our all-time top 20.
We bring you (once more … with feeling) … The Butler Did It.
In the year since our initial series, something has been nagging at me. Gerard Butler has never left my mind. I just can’t get over him. He seems to show up in every new casting announcement, omniscient. Why does it feel like Butler is everywhere? Why does it feel like he’s guiding me toward something?
I read through our old articles to see if I could put my finger on it. Here are a few of the insights we had into Gerry B’s career:
Butler’s character sends even the buttoned-up women who browse the Virgin Megastore Christian hip-hop section into faint-headed swoons.— Nick Rogers, Dracula 2000
Instead we have Butler, a decent guy playing a Greek king with a Scottish accent and a silly beard who is just bad enough to make the whole thing laughable.— Dave Gutierrez, 300
Butler’s performance of the Phantom is … something, to say the least. Butler speaks only 14 of his lines, sings the rest and does some truly formidable vocal somersaults to disguise his natural Scottish accent.— Aly Caviness, The Phantom of the Opera
Falling just this short of earning the title Gerry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Bounty Hunter is a disarming study of Stockholm Syndrome and an opportunity for Butler to scale perverse depths.Mitch Ringenberg, The Bounty Hunter
Slimy, sleazy, but so egregious. Butler’s complete devotion to his role is nonetheless deeply satisfying. He has captained many ships to the bottom of the sea of quality but only here, at rock bottom, did he find his true destiny. Godspeed, Gerard Butler.Me, Den of Thieves
I speak for everyone at Midwest Film Journal when I say, “Thank you, Gerard Butler. Thank you for two Batmans.”Greg Lindberg, Reign of Fire
We had essays on the sexy Butler, the manly Butler, the musical Butler, the sleazebag Butler, the solid supporting Butler and the psycho Butler. What about his softer side, though? We were missing the romantic Butler.
P.S. I Love You was released about in 2007, about a year after 300, and established Butler as a romantic lead. Here, he plays a prematurely dead man, Gerry, who posthumously manipulates his grieving wife, Holly (Hilary Swank), on an adventure around the world to revisit their sacred spots and move on from him.
It isn’t until a few months after Gerry (the character) passes away that Holly receives her first letter from him, instructing her to visit an old bar they frequented to sing karaoke. Holly’s journey eventually brings her to Ireland, where she visits where she and Gerry first met, too. Over time she comes across possible paramours — William (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Daniel (Harry Connick Jr.) — neither of whom are half as charming or handsome as Gerard Butler. But he’s dead here, so … whatever.
It’s too bad: The sequences with Butler are so charming, casually punctuating the trite misadventures of Holly and her two friends as they follow his ghost plots. Yeah, yeah, she’s supposed to be getting over him, but it’s to the audience’s benefit that she can’t. He sings, he dances, he shares wisdom with an Irish brogue; Morgan can’t possibly keep up with Butler’s mastery of accents. This is the least overtly dickish romantic character Butler has ever played, and yet …
Whether Gerry the character’s plan is fucked up or not is entirely up to a viewer’s perception. If you empathize with Holly, it must come across as a loving story about a woman grieving her husband while trying to move on, his letters granting her permission she didn’t know she needed. But it’s more fun to think of it as a story where Gerry is so desperate to define Holly’s life that he can’t stand the idea of her moving on without him, even after death.
Without spoiling too much, his plans lead her to his former bandmate, so they can sit and talk about him post-coitus. Was that intentional on his part? Unclear, but I like to think so. It’s kind of like the new version of The Invisible Man, but even more insidious.
Oh, fuck it. I’m making this movie into something it isn’t. P.S. I Love You is a silly romantic comedy about moving on — precisely as advertised. Butler is charming in a way he never is in any other role, a lovely man who loved his wife, knowing how she’d mourn, and persisting after death to help her heal. Swank is sweet as Holly. The comedy is silly and full of goofy dialogue and physical bits.
It’s a reminder that despite many of Butler’s epically terrible performances in mediocre-to-terrible films (*cough* Angel Has Fallen *cough*), he is, if anything, one of our most reliable thespians. Butler can play an asshole. He can play a saint. He can play an ancient monster or a modern hero. He can play a brooding romantic lead or a hottie everyman with a sweet smile. Corrupt cop? Bounty hunter? Surfer? Submariner? Wickie? Egyptian god? Pick any type of character and, rest assured, the Butler did it.