The surprisingly complex motivations of Danny in Hot Fuzz

*Spoilers below*

Danny Butterman is one of the more complicated characters in Hot Fuzz despite acting like one of its most childish.

Many years ago, Danny’s mother died in a car accident, which, later on, is revealed to have been suicide. She drove her car off a cliff after the town had lost the Village of the Year award, which she had been fighting to win.

Frank Butterman, the Chief Inspector of the Sanford Police Force, blamed some travellers who came into the area for his wife’s death. Frank sets out to win the contest every year in his wife’s memory even if that means killing people who get into the Greater Good’s way.

The Greater Good is the ethos by which the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance operates. Anything that damage’s the town’s reputation goes against the Greater Good and results in death.

Frank’s obsession goes one step further and deeper.

Early on, Frank confesses to Nicholas Angel, the film’s protagonist, that he’s always been a big fan of cowboys. Frank and Danny show up later on dressed as cowboys, which is a callback to a family photo where he, his wife, and son were all dressed up. The town is being preserved by Frank to hold onto a moment where the town was still good.

I like that Danny’s character has been living with the knowledge that he’s part of a conspiracy. He’s like one of the characters from the action movies he loves, but he’s more of a villain than a hero. His job is to uphold the law and yet he willfully dives into chocolate-induced ignorance of what’s going on around him to stay his guilt.

It’s really no wonder than Danny naturally gravitates toward Nick who brings an outsider’s perspective into what’s become a culture where murder is normal.

He’s someone who can do something about this.

By the power of Greyskull

Danny is unconsciously painting a picture of the conspiracy within the movie collection he owns.

The protagonists in police movies, typically, go to whatever length necessary to bring criminals to justice. That often means sacrificing people who they love, killing someone who they’d rather not, or facing a hard truth that a trusted adviser has been deceiving them.

Danny’s movie wall says here are the characters he’s supposed to be acting like. He’s supposed to be brining his father to justice for hurting others in order to make Sanford great for the foreseeable future. The trouble is that he doesn’t fit into the archetypal good cop image. He’s heavy, unfit, and lazy, and Danny knows that because his father has infantilized him.

Danny is allowed to get away with drinking under the influence, which, for any other cop, would likely result in some serious consequences. He’s been enabled to do whatever the hell he wants by his father and that means he’s become lazy and unable to fight back.

That is until Danny meets Nicholas to has all of the ideals of the characters in the film, but is missing one key element.

Nicholas is far too rigid in his thinking. He likes to go by the book on almost every scenario and follows the logic his real-world cop mind brings to Sanford. By showing Nick these movies, Danny is pointing to the absurd qualities of the conspiracy that’s surrounding him. He’s telling Nick to stop thinking inside of the DVD box to uncover the truth.

It’s just the one killer, actually

There are plenty of moment of conscious resistance shown by Danny, but this is a pivotal one where he goes from dumb cop to ally.

In the scene right before, Danny is speaking with the owner of the town’s convenience store, Annette Roper. Roper is part of the town’s conspiracy and lets slip the possibility that there could be more than killer.

Instead of dismissing or ignoring the comment, which Danny knows is true, Danny looks to Nick, who has his back turned, and emphases that, “It’s just the one killer, actually.”

It’s really all down to how Danny says the line. There’s a hint of guilt and desperation.

At this point in the film, Nick has been utterly demoralized having been proven wrong about his conspiracy theory. Danny knows that some part of Nick’s detective brain is still on and uses his comment to turn something innocuous insidious.

After this point, Danny becomes an active helper in solving the town’s problem. He helps Nick escape from the others, he fights alongside him to take down his father, and he begins to take ownership of the actions the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance have been taking.

Danny’s culpability

Danny confesses to Nick that he thought his dad was just racking people on the knuckles and sending them on their way not killing them.

I don’t feel like Danny believes that statement. He knows all too well what’s been going on, but he’s blinded himself to it. He doesn’t want to think that his father could be doing all this in his mother’s memory.

That line always makes me laugh.

This is another moment where Danny breaks off from his father and also ditches the past. He chooses to live for a future where Sanford can change with the help of people like Nicholas.

Is Danny suitable to be a police officer? I don’t think so, but after all this he’s got his heart in the right place and that’s a start.

***

Just some thoughts about Danny Butterman and Hot Fuzz. If you have any comments or observations on his character, please do so below!

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