Film Reviews

“Carefully Crafted” – Film Review: Greenland

Alex Watkin

Gerard Butler’s latest disaster film revolves around a comet named Clark, which on impact with earth will supposedly cause an extinction level event. John Garrity (Gerard Butler), his wife Allison Garrity (Morena Baccarin) and son Nathan Garrity (Roger Dale Floyd) are initially selected to be protected in a government bunker in Greenland. However, not everything transpires smoothly as they try to reach salvation. 

Overall, the film is good earnest fun

Within this larger than life plot, the film interweaves a personal story surrounding John and Alison’s marriage, which seems to be heading towards an inevitable divorce. The plot and character arcs certainly aren’t revolutionary, but they are well executed. Overall, the film is good earnest fun.

The film’s best attribute is the tension it creates through surprisingly small moments. The sequence when the family originally try to board the plane to Greenland is definitely a highlight. Director Ric Roman Waugh uses the familiar context of Departures and pushes it to its stress inducing limits.

It makes excellent use of the little things to build suspense, whether that be Nathan’s medical condition or subordinate officials. The majority of the film is composed of sequences like this. It’s refreshing to see a disaster film that goes back to basics in an era of CGI excess.

The third act is less interesting than the rest of the film

The third act is less interesting than the rest of the film; it becomes a formality for the family to reach the bunker. The premise naturally causes the expectation of large scale collateral damage and so the film is compelled to fulfil this. The CGI in these sections isn’t particularly well integrated, so the film unfortunately loses believability. However, it spends little time revelling in the spectacle, subsequently these moments pass by fairly innocuously. 

Although it is predictable, the internal conflict and subsequent emotional arch for the family is nicely resolved in the third act. There are some very Terrence Malick subjective flourishes, they are simple enough to avoid being pretentious and instead are pleasantly sentimental. It’s nothing brilliant but it is functional, which is good to see. Thankfully the film understands its material and does not try to force something overly complicated.

It’s also good to see the film isn’t unnecessarily cynical to force some irritating claim about the desolation of the human condition. Greenland’s apocalyptic premise could have easily veered towards absolute bleakness. Bleakness isn’t inherently bad, but it has to have substance to work and  it wouldn’t have felt appropriate for this material. Instead the film balances moments of immorality and cruelty with actions of real kindness and compassion.

Gerard Butler plays a role that he is actually suited to

Beyond this, part of what makes the film work is Gerard Butler plays a role that he is actually suited to: skyscraper construction manager and dad. This prevents the film from feeling stupid and limiting enjoyment to an ironic level. All the audience has to accept is the conceit of the comet and the subsequent worldwide destruction. This is straightforward enough for all those without negative presuppositions of the genre. If you often struggle to accept the central conceit of disaster films, this one won’t be any different.

The score by David Buckley is also worth mentioning. It’s not something particularly memorable after the fact, but like the rest of the film, it is effective at its job. It stitches the sequences together and provides a dynamic atmosphere throughout. There are instances where the film takes short moments to pause and allow the score to takeover. I would have liked to have seen more of this; it would have strengthened the film’s existing qualities.

The whole experience remains a pleasant one and is a worthwhile watch

Disaster stories are a genre designed for cinema; this film is a good example that not much needs to be done to get an audience engaged. It doesn’t attempt to break or deconstruct the genre, but what is here is carefully crafted. It loses some of its verve by the third act, yet the whole experience remains a pleasant one and is a worthwhile watch.

Alex Watkin

Featured image courtesy of John Fowler via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @greenlandmovie via No changes made to these images.

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