Full disclosure: I had dinner “with” Gerard Butler, once upon a 2013 Art Basel Miami Beach soirée hosted by Dom Pérignon and the Swiss luxury watch manufacturer Roger Dubuis. He wore the Excalibur timepiece, in case you were wondering; and we talked about Paul Walker, who had just died in that terrible car accident, and about his favorite pop culture moment of the year (“the Miley Cyrus twerk”). Good times.
Don’t worry: This review is pretty, pretty, pretty objective.
Greenland is a romp! Y’ know, in as much as a would-be blockbuster hella popcorn movie about the inevitable end of the world as we know it can be one. In this reunion with Ric Roman Waugh, his Angel Has Fallen director, Butler doesn’t get to save the planet (some things cannot be helped), but he gets to save his family…and to be saved by it, too.
Fuck yeah, he does. This is a Gerard Butler flick, after all. And when he delivers, Gerard Butler delivers.
The actor plays John Garrity, a seemingly ordinary contractor? foreman? some big-time construction worker… som’in’ like that, ’cause he’s up on a skyscraper and he drives a big truck, as I wrote in my notes. Working off of screenwriter Chris Sparling’s tautly packed script (he wrote Ryan Reynolds’ Buried), Waugh plays it kinda coy with the 411, at first. Pretty sure I had to guess our story begins in Atlanta, where John and his family live. Allison (Morena Baccarin) is his estranged wife, and they walk around on eggshells around each other, but around each other they’re tryin’ to be, for each other and for their son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd), who’s got diabetes (he wears a pump – it’s a whole thing). John’s a good guy, the movie hammers on all agile like; he’s giving it another go with his wife (and she with him) and he’s into his kid, and his work, and his life. Life is good. Little would you know there’s a comet headed toward Earth.
Yeah, an icy, small Solar System body affectionally known as “Clarke” is totally barreling its way over, ready to outgas all over ’em, but humans are gonna human and have watch parties and shit, which is exactly for what the reunited Garrity gang is preppin’ on the day we meet ’em. A piece of comet is expected to “land” near Bermuda, and the world is watching.
Meanwhile, John’s phone has rung with government word that he and his have been pre-selected for shelter. Of course, at first he can’t make sense of it (Butler superbly sells the increasing intensity of the sequence), but then the comet doesn’t land in the Caribbean, it hits and obliterates Central Florida instead, because Clarke is, indeed, a runaway train of comet fragments, and it all clicks. This is doom.
Oh, so that explains the military cargo planes flying up above in formation earlier….
The phone rings again, the TV goes into full emergency alert mode, and the toaster rings the alarm (that last one’s a joke), with a repeat of the earlier message: John and his have been pre-selected. They gotta get. And they better hush now (mustn’t tell a soul).
A movie about the of the world? In 2020? Groundbreaking.
This is the sort of the ultimate in disaster movies, no. Don’t matter what Bruce Willis did in that other movie: In reality, we cannot tame a comet. Within this context, which is its context, Greenland is sure-footed in what it is and in its whims, as John and his family get on with it united, facing the uncertainty of a world on fire. Hey, that sounds familiar.
The catharsis here lies in the outlandish nature of the family’s particular situation and their journey, as they have to get to a military base to check in for evac, destination TBA, only to become separated because someone lost their insulin (don’t worry, Dad’ll get it – I told you it was a whole thing)…and, more disturbingly because RL, because Nathan’s pre-existing condition wouldn’t have qualified him for the rescue, anyway. And just as things were goin’ and moving improbably well and efficiently….
Shit gets primal from there, as John struggles to get to Allison and Nathan (and to hold onto himself), and Allison makes her way back to Nathan after accepting help from the wrong couple (David Denman and Hope Davis), which thrusts Butler and Baccarin into their own sub-indie movie-style-plots of woe and despair.
Amidst all this chaos and turmoil, Greenland manages to hit its most powerful beats not as it destroys world capital after world capital but as it celebrates the resilience and compassion of the human spirit (nurses and social workers get nice shout-outs and, OK Merrin Dungey from TV’s Alias, keeps it real as a major living out her – and our shared? – call to duty). Not bad for a “Gerard Butler movie.”
Family reunited, and with a planet-killer piece of comet scheduled to hit Europe in mere hours, John & Co. still must race to catch a last-minute flight to Greenland, the world’s largest, northernmost island and the site of humanity’s last hope – and Waugh takes us there like he’s some Terrence Malick.
I can sooo see how this yarn could be further spun off into a what-happens-next limited streaming series type o’ thing, but for now, as we all continue to deal with our own very real COVID-19 pandemic, let’s set the scene, dim the lights, make it nice like at the movies, sit back, and enjoy the show On Demand at home. It’s a wild ride (and it works).