I’ll be blunt. The idea of going and watching a disaster film whilst in the midst of a historical pandemic that has exasperated the collapse of the United States is unappealing. It is hard to fathom escaping into the disaster film genre, typically known for its more absurdist, reality-defying scenarios when, quite frankly, we’re all living it. Now that I have my cards on the table for you, dear reader, Ric Roman Waugh’s GREENLAND was a pleasant surprise. It’s grounded in a way not typically seen in disaster films, which works heavily in the film’s favor given the timeliness of its release. And, through Gerard Butler’s gritty portrayal as a father just trying to do right by his family, it all comes together to make this an oddly freeing viewing experience.
The film is directed by Ric Roman Waugh. The screenplay was written by Chris Sparling (Down a Dark Hall) and Mitchell LaFortune. GREENLAND stars Gerard Butler, Morena Baccarin, and Roger Dale Floyd. In GREENLAND, we follow the Garrity family as they try to fight to survive the impending plant-killing comet Clarke that is just making its way to Earth. Once a public source of excitement, things go horribly wrong (bye, Tampa) and soon the family sees themselves seemingly randomly selected to be taken to a bunker for their own safety. After a series of events, the family is separated and the three must find their way back to each other. Dealing with the best and worst of humanity, the clock is ticking for them to get to safety, or else all hope will be lost.
The film establishes the familial dynamics right off the back, with subtle clues here and there to guide the audience along the way. The attention to detail from Waugh and Sparling carries throughout the film, but doing so early on makes the gradual transition into the signs of potential disaster more noteworthy. From military jets flying overhead to a Presidential warning system blaring on John Garrity’s (Gerard Butler) phone, the audience is able to relate to John’s confusion before the first comet fragment destroys Tampa. And it’s in these details that provide the bulk of the success for the film.
Building on this note on details, we truly get to see how people would realistically react in a disaster like this. And, after spending the past nine months or so grappling with our own pandemic disaster, these details hit home. We have the group of people raiding a pharmacy. We have neighbors begging the Garritys to take their children with them to safety. We see young adults partying it up on the rooftops as they watch the comet light up the sky. All of this feels astoundingly real. But, thankfully, there are enough elements to remind us that this isn’t reality and we can slip back into the fiction of GREENLAND.
The film itself also provides a wonderful space for Gerard Butler to play in. Coupled with Waugh’s grounded direction, it’s clear that Butler excels as the everyday man who is just trying to do his best. His character John is not perfect by any means. As we discover later on in the film in a scene with his wife’s father, Dale (a brief, but great Scott Glenn), he was on the outs with his wife, Allison (Morena Baccarin), due to infidelity. Butler handles the nuances of the drama seamlessly, providing a gritty and realistic performance that the audience can relate to. It would be difficult not to cheer him on because, much like John, you can’t help but want the best for this family as they race against the clock.
One element that may be hit or miss for some is the CGI elements. There are moments where it really works and, visually, can take your breath away. The shock waves and the falling fragments work to visually illustrate the impending (or right in your face) doom. As the audience sees the fragments and Clarke light up the nighttime sky, like John, we simply cannot look away. However, there were also moments that didn’t look as ironed out as they could have, which might have had more to do with budget than skill. One, in particular, that stood out was a rapidly descending plane in a fjord. It didn’t come across as realistic to the eye, which took away from the intensity of that moment. At this point, though, it’s nitpicking.
Ric Roman Waugh’s GREENLAND might be a sleeper hit depending on word of mouth. The decision to focus the film on the more human responses to a disaster rather than over-the-top CGI effects works in the film’s favor. Gerard Butler’s performance carries a necessary grit that makes us believe in his character’s survivability. Storywise, there are enough twists and turns to keep the audience on its toes. And, while the film’s runtime clocks in at roughly two hours, that final act really will have you on the edge of your seat. Overall, the film is truly a pleasant surprise.
STXfilms has now released the disaster thriller film, GREENLAND. Check it out!