Synopsis – A family struggles for survival in the face of a cataclysmic natural disaster.
My Take – For a time period we all enjoyed the plethora of disaster film releases which contained the right amount of special effects, action, a likable cast and the intensity of race against time, to be enjoyed on the big screen that is until they lost their flavor.
However, in a summer devoid of blockbusters (except Tenet), a return to the delightfully bombastic form of entertainment formula seems like a desperate choice, especially a one which has Gerard Butler leading the charge, who is no stranger to global cataclysms, as he helped avert one in the awful Geostorm (2017).
Thankfully, his latest disaster adventure, from Angel Has Fallen director Ric Roman Waugh, turned out to be quite different from what I expected. One that strives to be serious, harrowing, and most importantly relatable, instead of just gloriously blowing and breaking every landmark architectural structure in the world.
Here, we don’t see NASA sending astronauts to destroy the comet in its tracks, and we don’t get any scenes set in Mission Control guiding, sacrificing and celebrating the star cast. Instead the focus is kept through an intimate scope of the protagonist family and their desperate journey. As director Ric Roman Waugh tries less to create tension with the looming disaster but rather does so through the human element and the different characters the family members meet on their way.
While the film strives for grounded realism, but of course, a degree of implausibility is unavoidable given the premise. With spectacular visuals and an emotional narrative that is framed by the harrowing experiences of one family, this one deserves to be seen on the big screen.
The story follows John Garrity (Gerard Butler), a structural engineer who is trying to juggle work and life, whilst also navigating his return to home, following a brief but tense separation from his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin). Now willing to work it out for their young son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd), the two are hosting a BBQ party at their house, by inviting the neighbors to witness the live passing of a newly discovered Comet dubbed Clarke that is expected to skim Earth with a few small debris that could possibly hit the sea.
That is until, the first supposed debris lands and wipes out an entire city. With news coming in that the comet itself is also on its way to Earth to create an extinction level disaster, John, whose family has received a Presidential Alert on his device of being selected by the US government for his future role in a post-impact society, finds himself racing against time in a desperate fight for their lives to reach safety.
Unfortunately, a series of events separates them, and along their journey to find each other again, director Ric Roman Waugh and writer Chris Sparling pull out all of the usual disaster film tropes and clichés, but with the right amount of emotions, drama, and good looking CGI.
Like I mentioned above, this film is not a typical contender of the disaster genre, where the protagonist uses his almost superhuman powers to save the world. Instead, it gives us a grounded, gritty, but hopeful look at how individuals would deal with the end of the world and will leave you feeling emotionally drained but ultimately satisfied.
Here, the film’s realistic portrayal of the highs and lows of humanity’s reaction to certain death is the real star of the show. The decision to focus on the Garritys mean that there aren’t the usual secondary subplots that usually clog up films like this. This focus also means that the film is actually relatable even amidst the chaos that COVID-19 has thrown the world into.
The film taps into the paranoia of needing to count on strangers in a time of crisis and not knowing if they can be counted on. Some of the side characters that our heroes come across are kind and selfless, while others are opportunistic and selfish, and this seems to reflect the spectrum of responses one sees in any disaster scenario.
In this current climate, most people have been sheltering in place with their families and loved ones and have been forced to reevaluate what is really important to their lives, and this parallel in the film is likely to strike a chord in many filmgoers.
The film’s visual style is also not too over-the-top and presents the coming apocalypse in a muted but extremely effective way. The judicious use of CGI in short bursts add to the tension, and prevents the film from becoming one loud explosion after another. It lets the human angle drive the film, instead of forcing the audience to focus on the death and destruction, as the first rocks from the comet start to cause havoc around the world.
Yes, it is likely that one can see all the twists a mile away, but they have reached a new sort of poignancy as the world reels from the effects of a pandemic. The film touches on things like privilege, class, immigrant issues, people with chronic illnesses, and the fundamental decency of human beings during an apocalypse, but unfortunately never goes fully into it.
The performances are quite solid too. Gerard Butler is great as an average Joe, though the role is not a very difficult role or something that would be beyond his skill set but it is more serious and dramatic than his usual tough guy parts. And unlike many American films Butler has starred in, this film acknowledges his Scottish roots and uses that as a plot point.
Morena Baccarin is good too, especially on her own, proving once again that she is a capable actress yet to be given her due. Young actor Roger Dale Floyd is also reasonably convincing as their son, while Scott Glenn, David Denman, Hope Davis, Andrew Bachelor, and Holt McCallany are good in smaller roles. On the whole, ‘Greenland’ is a sufficiently harrowing and engaging disaster film with surprise focus on emotions than explosions.
Directed – Ric Roman Waugh
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 119 minutes