Even in mindless action fare such as “Den of Thieves” and and “Hunter Killer” and “Angel Has Fallen” and “London Has Fallen” and “Olympus Has Fallen” and that’s a lot of falling, Gerard Butler retains a screen-captivating, grim-faced presence with a burning intensity who leaps giant plot holes in a single bound, usually with a gun in his hand and some sort of dark cloud haunting him. At 51, Butler is firmly in the Bruce Willis/Liam Neeson Zone, with a particular set of skills well-suited to glossy B-movie thriller fare.
Now, just in time for escapist holiday home viewing, Butler gives a grounded everyman performance as the obligatory family man who has to rise to the action-hero occasion when a natural catastrophe threatens the very future of the world in Ric Roman Waugh’s well-crafted and surprisingly humanistic thriller “Greenland.” Unlike the typical, effects-laden, comet-threatens-the-planet B-movie, “Greenland” is more in the vein of Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds,” with the scenes of chaos and destruction serving as the backdrop for the story of one family’s desperate quest for survival — even when circumstances have ripped them apart.
Butler’s John Garrity is a structural engineer (“I build buildings” is the way he describes his profession) who is estranged from his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin). John and his young son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) are shopping for last-minute supplies for Nathan’s birthday party when John gets an alert on his phone and then a call from a number identified as “United States Department of Homeland Security,” carrying a message saying John and his wife and son have been selected for “emergency shelter relocation.” Seems there’s a comet coming and the comet’s name is Clarke, and contrary to the advance chatter on the radio and TV talk shows, Clarke isn’t headed for the Atlantic Ocean — it’s on a collision course for Florida, and there are untold numbers of equally lethal, stadium-sized “fragments” also headed our way.
Why has John’s family been chosen to join the relative few in a safe bunker? Because John’s a structural engineer who “builds buildings,” remember? That will make him one seriously essential worker when it’s time to rebuild. The first strong indication “Greenland” is a cut above standard disaster-movie material is when a neighbor begs with the Garritys to take her daughter, but they have to refuse because the government’s instructions were clear: If they bring anyone else, they’ll be turned away at the checkpoint. It’s a genuinely moving scene, beautifully played by Butler and Baccarin as parents who are devastated they can’t help another parent’s child, but resolute in protecting their own.
The Garrity family is THISCLOSE to boarding a transport plane to safety when they hit one major roadblock after another, starting with the military discovering Nathan is diabetic and his condition should have disqualified them from the relocation. John is separated from Allison and Nathan — and then Allison is literally left on the side of the road by a couple (David Denman and Hope Davis) who seize Nathan as their ticket to safety.
With a score from the Roland Emmerich School of Disaster Films setting the pace, “Greenland” finds time for an interlude at the ranch of Allison’s widowed father Dale (the always welcome Scott Glenn), where the family is miraculously reunited and gears up for one last attempt to somehow hitch a ride to one the last possible safe havens for humankind: GREENLAND!
I knew that title had to come into play at some point.
Director Waugh has a keen sense of action drama pacing, and the special effects team does a fine job of providing CGI snapshots of the world bending to Clarke’s will, with the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House among the recognizable structural casualties. Gerard Butler and Morena Baccarin are playing variations on characters we’ve seen in many a movie such as this, but they’re outstanding as a long-married couple who weren’t sure they were going to stay together — until that damned Clarke came calling and they were reminded of what really matters in this crazy world of ours. They might well have to relocate to Greenland, but you best believe they’re gonna do it as a family.