January 22, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

‘Greenland’ review: Can Gerard Butler outrun a comet?

Ever seen one of those “Giant Comet 2020” joke political bumper stickers? That’s essentially the premise of “Greenland,” a disaster thriller starring Gerard Butler, helmed by his “Angel Has Fallen” director Ric Roman Waugh. The title and premise conjure up visions of heaving CGI glaciers, “Day After Tomorrow”-style catastrophically climate-changed weather events, and one man who tries to stop them all. But the script, by Chris Sparling, is refreshingly scaled to human size, and after living through the events of 2020, the chaos and capriciousness of human decision-making during the apocalypse depicted in “Greenland” is all too plausible.

The set up is basic: Butler is John, a structural engineer in a generic American city (Atlanta, to be exact). His relationship with wife Allison (Morena Baccarin) is frosty, hinting at an imminent breakup. They share a precocious son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd), who is the one to inform his father that a comet named Clarke is speeding toward Earth, ready to rain space fragments for one heck of a light show. It’s positioned as a spectacular celestial event, nothing to worry about, until John receives a “Presidential Alert” on his phone while buying beer for a barbecue, and an ominous message that he and his family need to report to an Air Force base for evacuation. It’s clear his family has been singled out for some mysterious special treatment when none of his neighbors receive the message as they all watch Tampa reduced to a pile of smoking rubble on TV.

Therein lies the core conflict of this tale, a dark and tragic exploration of sheer human desperation when some are deemed worthy of saving and others are not. While some choose to party or pray in anticipation of Clarke’s devastation, speeding toward Earth bearing an “extinction-level” event, others loot or lie in wait. But for most, the desire to survive turns hysterical, desperate, violent.

Thanks to a blunder of bureaucracy, John, Allison and Nathan are separated at the base minutes before the plane takes off to an unknown destination (it’s Greenland, where a clutch of old nuclear fallout bunkers remains). The trio are forced on an odyssey through an American heart of darkness while trying to reunite, their journeys dictated by the decisions of the people around them, who are constantly choosing between cruelty or kindness.

The struggle to survive, even on what may be an uninhabitable planet, becomes uglier and more treacherous every minute. Waugh maintains barely restrained chaos throughout, which often tends toward the shrill. But Waugh and Sparling keep these moments of conflict and despair grounded in the mundane places: stuck in traffic, on the side of the highway, in the back of a truck. The events of Sparling’s script are not just plausible but recognizable. There’s very little otherworldly about this cinematic apocalypse. These are the people, places and, yes, behaviors we know all too well.

One wouldn’t expect a Gerard Butler action thriller to reflect ourselves and our experience of this year, and in the end “Greenland” does wander into fantasy while purporting that a man (or at least a Gerard Butler) might outrun an extinction-level event. But if we strip away the comets raining fire on Earth, this film is about how the ways in which we treat each other can be a matter of life or death. Even in that darkness, it dares to have a little hope.

‘Greenland’

Rated: PG-13, for intense sequences of disaster action, some violence, bloody images and brief strong language.

Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

Playing: Available Dec. 18 on digital and VOD