Greenland

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Gerald Butler in Greenland.
Gerald Butler in Greenland.
Photo: Empire Entertainment.

OUR RATING

4/5 Stars

WHAT IT'S ABOUT:

When an asteroid's collision course with Earth proves to be far more deadly than anticipated, estranged married couple, John and Allison Garrity, and their seven-year-old son, Nathan, will have to fight their way through a burning USA to reach the last hope for mankind: underground fallout shelters in Greenland.

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

Even though it's literally about the end of the world, there's something oddly comforting about Greenland and its very familiar disaster movie tropes in these disturbing times. Perhaps it's the sense it gives that things could be a whole lot worse than a devastating pandemic and economic collapse but, more likely, it's that it's a marvellously entertaining and refreshingly old-fashioned way to spend a couple of hours - especially in an actual cinema.

Yes, the usual complaints about generic disaster movies can easily be lobbed at the film. It's far-fetched, clichéd, sentimental, and insubstantial, while it is remarkably callous about the lives of anyone but our heroes and unabashedly US-centric (even if the fates of other nations pop up on news bulletins). But it would hardly be fair to criticise a disaster movie for being, well, a disaster movie - especially one as well done as this.

With a reported budget of just $35 million (to put that in context, San Andreas, a disaster movie of smaller scope, cost $110 million), there's no sense at all that the film skimped on the requisite special effects to properly portray the sort of devastation that a natural disaster of this scale entails.

It's a good-looking, great-sounding and undeniably cinematic movie that really demands to be seen on the big screen – which is more the pity that in so many territories, it's going straight to streaming.

There was clearly a choice to spend Greenland's SFX budget on making a few scenes look fairly spectacular, rather than inundating the film with an endless stream of crappy CGI - and the film is all the better for it. For a start, there is a physicality to much of the action that occasionally relies on a bit too much of frenetic, shaky camera work, but mostly gives the film a tangibility and groundedness that is often missing in big-budget action films.

Most importantly, the script by Chris Sparling keeps its focus very squarely on the Garrity family, and director Ric Roman Waugh (who just recently teamed with Gerard Butler on Angel Has Fallen) maintains that focus. The film is arguably a few minutes too long, but it's otherwise a fairly lean and stripped back genre picture with a nice emphasis on character and family dynamics.

Nothing too nuanced or complicated, of course, but just enough to give the film that extra bit of Spielbergian humanity that is crucial in any remotely adequate disaster flick. Add to that some moments of human goodness to balance out some of the inevitable ugliness of humanity in crisis, and it becomes increasingly difficult not to be won over by a film that, in this respect, strikes an especially timely and welcome note.

Gerard Butler tones down his usual action hero thing to play an ordinary man trying to do right by his family in extraordinary circumstances. The one scene where he does slip into a more violent mode is smartly depicted as something genuinely horrific even against a backdrop of the apocalypse. It's a small detail, and it hardly turns what is basically a thrill ride into war and peace, but it's exactly these sorts of details that gives the film a leg up over similar b-movies.

Butler does some nice work here but Morena Baccarin and young Roger Dale Ford particularly impress. If the writing doesn't drive home that this is a story of a family fighting for survival, not about one man and his fight to save his family (and it should be), then their performances certainly do. It reminds me a bit of the way San Andreas split its narrative focus between the Rock and his on-screen daughter, Alexandra Daddario, and it's no less welcome here than it was there. 

Does any of this add up to anything truly special, let alone life-changing or profound? Hell, no. This is a disposable disaster movie, but it's one that knows exactly what it is and is smart enough to know when to shake things up a bit and when to lean hard into its genre trappings. And, in a time when cinemas are struggling, it makes a pretty great case for why even the best home viewing can't beat a proper cinematic experience.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:

Greenland is now showing in cinemas.

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