There’s a reason this Gerard Butler action flick might be a game changer for the Scottish one man army. In Greenland, it’s true that he cracks heads, takes a beating and does rugged resilience better than some actors half his age. Where the erstwhile disaster movie turns left instead of a predictable right, however, is in its use of tone. Character beats, plot and structure might be quickly established, but it’s in the way things morph over a lean two hours that makes the difference.
A convincing Morena Baccarin plays Allison Garrity to Butler’s John in a role which on first impression feels one note. However, what director Ric Roman Waugh does is give Allison backbone, a resourceful streak and sass by the sack load. When the pivotal plot point kicks in bang on fifteen minutes, Earth is facing an extinction level event, the Garritys are alone in being handpicked for survival and their neighbours are pissed.
Quickly, Greenland turns from family drama into survival thriller taking a leaf or two from World War Z in the process. As a companion piece to this Butler left field launch, there are few films which fit the bill better. Purely because in both cases their leading men took a risk and went for the dramatically interesting, rather than tried and tested route. As a result of that decision, Butler adds depth, breadth and humanity, ensuring audiences stay on his side throughout.
John Garrity is an everyman who’s simply trying to keep his family safe and survive something life threatening. A fast and loose use of steady cam at pivotal moments, coupled with a descent into public anarchy imbues their situation with a sense of foreboding. News reports serve as a constant reminder of the escalating peril, whilst family separation and human self-interest ramp up tensions. Greenland is clever to explore that selfish and devious dimension in others without making it feel like an obvious plot device. There are clichéd moments and dynamic set pieces, but it’s in the quiet scenes that this film excels.
Stripping Butler of his trademark quips and impregnable demeanour grounds everything. Audiences empathize, drama gains credence and most importantly, Greenland will have fans reevaluating. It’s hard not to see parallels here between the current global pandemic and an ever increasing sense of paranoia reflected in this movie. There’s a distinct discourse contained within the subtext which passes comment on social strata, financial status and human weakness.
Violence when it happens is shocking, short lived and comes with psychological repercussions. Even the conventional last minute escapes feel hard fought and more plausible. John bleeds, burns and regrets his actions, which only makes Gerard Butler better. In the latter parts of Greenland, audiences encounter Scott Glenn playing grizzled world weary father Dale to Morena Baccarin’s Allison and things kick up another notch.
He brings to the table an innate gravitas from decades of portraying authority figures and does wiry machismo effortlessly. His scenes opposite Butler are a masterclass in understatement and emotional restraint in which both men shine. Although his role is only small, Glenn makes it memorable with measured words of wisdom and flashes of backstory. That he’s able to weave in a little pathos for good luck says more about this actor and his abilities than any number of superlatives.
As Greenland builds to a finale and the muted meteor showers, crash landed prop planes and government sirens take centre stage, Ric Roman Waugh pulls off another trick. By employing flashbacks with visual eloquence and selective silences, the film becomes a character study. Gone are the pyrotechnics, examples of human desperation and family drama to be replaced by something more subdued. Huddled in the darkness with an occasional flash of emergency lighting are the Garritys. What follows are home movies, birthday celebrations and sun dappled first encounters as if their life were one long sizzle reel. There’s a beauty in the ambiguity of these cinematic choices, which need to be experienced not merely read then disregarded. This is reminiscent of World War Z in its final moments, which was both transparently earnest and emotionally on point.
If Gerard Butler intended to change perceptions, explore dramatic tangents and reinvent himself without discarding his action man roots, he’s achieved that and more. Greenland is an example of cinematic alchemy which happens all too rarely. Matthew McConaughey managed something similar with a run of films which included Mud, Magic Mike and Interstellar. With Greenland, we’re not in Oscar territory yet, but it certainly displays a renaissance of sorts. When the Scottish character actor is on this sort of form, anything could be possible.
Gerard Butler's latest effort reveals a dramatic depth beneath the action man veneer. Brooding, bold and effortlessly engaging, Greenland breaks the mould.