Sunday 15 May 2022

Movie Review: Greenland (2020)

An end-of-the-world thriller, Greenland focuses on individual actions as societal order disintegrates.

In Atlanta, structural engineer John Garrity (Gerard Butler) is trying to mend his marriage to Allison (Morena Baccarin) and be a good dad to his diabetic young son Nathan. A newly discovered comet dubbed Clarke is expected to pass close to earth but not cause serious damage. But then a piece of the comet wipes out Tampa, and John receives a Presidential alert ordering him to report with his family to a military base for evacuation to a secret shelter.

It's soon apparent the comet represents an extinction-level event, and governments have concealed the impact severity to avoid mass hysteria. In the chaos to board the evacuation plane John, Allison and Nathan are separated, but John learns the planes are heading to Greenland. The Garritys have to overcome numerous challenges to reunite at the rural home of Allison's father Dale (Scott Glenn), before trying to plot a path to survival.

After trying to save the world in the awful Geostorm, Gerard Butler narrows his objectives to just saving his family as another calamity threatens planet Earth. The result is a much better doomsday thriller, with only judicious use of not-bad special effects, mostly confined to the background.

The Chris Sparling script resonates by ignoring political leaders and governmental machinations. Officialdom is only represented by overwhelmed army volunteers following orders and trying to organize evacuations. Greenland primarily exists at the level of everyday families and individuals abandoned to deal with cataclysmic events on their own, and director Ric Roman Waugh thrives in portraying the range of reactions. 

After a solid opening act to establish the premise and the Garrity family dynamic, the middle segment is exceptionally dark, both in setting and events. First John is separated from Allison and Nathan, then Allison and Nathan are separated after a series of harrowing encounters exposing how quickly seemingly normal people can lose their senses. Meanwhile John also has to fight for survival and discovers attributes about himself he would have preferred to never learn.

But as some people embrace crime and anarchy, others go above and beyond to help. Greenland seeks a balance and underlines the range of human capability, both John and Allison encountering predators and saviours. Waugh underlines some altruistic acts with sentimental excess, but also succeeds in coupling intensity with searing revelations. John and Allison have their problems as an imperfect couple, but the survival experience brings them together in an affecting, visceral conclusion. The end of the world is an experience like no other to strip away distractions and reveal the essence of what matters.

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