“Sometimes you just got to suck it up. Push through. Even when you’re super scared.”
Greenland, on paper, looks like your typical Gerard Butler action vehicle. He plays a generic sounding man thrown into chaos as he tries to save his family from impeding doom as the world heads towards an extinction level event. So far, so 2012. Oh, and it’s directed by the man who helmed Angel Has Fallen, the third in the shouty-Gerard Has Fallen trilogy. It’d be understandable if these things didn’t get you particularly excited. But dig a little deeper and Greenland has a fair few things going for it. Firstly the cast is pretty good. Gerard Butler has been stuck in a certain type of role for a few years, but the man can certainly act. Morena Baccarin is in it too and she’s been great since her Firefly days. The supporting cast only really amount to cameos really but brilliant character actors like Scott Glenn and Holt McCallany are always a welcome addition to any film. Secondly, Ric Roman Waugh did helm the third film in the Has Fallen trilogy and y’know what? It was actually pretty good – certainly the best one in the franchise. The guy is a great B-Movie director and can bring the best out of Butler. So actually, Greenland could really go either way but it does have a few things going for it. But does it live up to these things? Or does it become just another forgettable Gerard Butler vehicle?
Greenland seems like any number of other disaster movies but the film’s main strength lies in the grounded way it deals with this apocalyptic scenario. Like 2012, the only hope the characters in Greenland have to surviving the impending extinction level event is by getting to a super-secret safe haven. Unlike 2012 though, Greenland doesn’t have our characters driving through collapsing buildings and outrunning a pyroclastic lava flow in an RV. The terror and tension in Greenland comes from more realistic scenarios (that have become all the more relevant in the recent pandemic months). Things like a trip to the drugstore or a traffic jam on the freeway become life or death scenarios. Butler’s John Garrity is selected for a place in the safe haven due to his job as a structural engineer. This is the source of much of the film’s conflict; as other characters find out John and his family’s name bands are a one way ticket to survival. Butler gives a career best performance here, leaning more into the every man persona rather than his normal hero mode. A nice touch is making Butler’s Scottish/American growl a character feature rather than trying to disguise it. Touches like this go a long way to making John Garrity feel like a real guy and not just Gerard Butler. His relationship with Allison (Morena Baccarin, giving another fantastic performance) is messy and believable and the family as a whole is brilliantly realised. Special mention needs to go to Allison and John’s son Nathan, played wonderfully by Roger Dale Floyd. Child actor’s can make or break a film but he is so so good in the role.
Ric Roman Waugh’s direction is solid, as always. The man knows how to make the most of a limited budget and can create some really unique scenarios. The airport set piece, where the family are split up over John’s son’s missing insulin, is as tense as it gets. It’s well directed and even though the budget is lacking, Waugh’s inventive storytelling hides the seams. The ending of the film will divide audiences I’m sure but I felt it necessary to complete the film and the characters arc. Anything else would have been too downbeat and would have left the audience feeling unfulfilled. If audiences are expecting a diaster movie that puts spectacle over story and character then Greenland is not going to be for them. There are moments of spectacle – the family getting caught in a meteor shower is a highlight – but most of the film’s strongest moments come from the smaller beats; the family drama, the tension as John tries to stop people realising the importance of the bracelet he’s wearing. 2012 this is not, but the film is all the better for it. Watch it for the end of the world disaster spectacle, but stay for the career best performance from Butler and a fresh take on a tired genre.
Reviewed by Tom