8/10 I’d been greatly looking forward to Greenland since its first trailer as an easy target for mocking, but spent significantly less time laughing at it than I was prepared to. This is a good, affecting movie.
Atlanta- construction engineer John Garrity (Gerard Butler, who also produces) begins repairing relations with his estranged wife, Allison (Morena Baccarin), and their son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd). The first step in this process is helping host a viewing party for Clarke, an interstellar comet passing close to Earth that’s scheduled to send several small meteors into the atmosphere. It’s quickly discovered that the projections were very wrong, and Clarke will in fact result in showers of major impacts across the globe leading up to a nine-mile wide planet killer heading into the Mediterranean. Garrity and his family are selected by the government for evacuation to bunkers in Greenland, but are kicked off their flight when they mention Nathan’s diabetes. With a day and a half before the big one hits, Garrity takes his family on a desperate scramble to Canada, where they hope to board a private flight to the bunkers.
In Greenland, Hollywood sells climate anxiety back to dads whose kids don’t talk to them anymore partially because of their climate denial. The specific world-ending disaster is more immediate, but all the details are bent to conform to a climate denier’s worldview – the scientists are still wrong, dad is still right and the government is still sneakily trying to get people to screw themselves over it.
But of course, Greenland isn’t remotely the first crack at selling this anxiety. The Day After Tomorrow blew the doors off at the box office all the way back in 2004, and Hollywood has shifted noticeably in recent years to making movies about disasters that can no longer be prevented. The coronavirus pandemic is only going to push that shift. We even had Geostorm in 2017, which addressed the specific Gerard Butler audience in a similar way – in that movie, it’s government regulators who are wrong, and he’s the manly scientist willing to do what is necessary and bomb the clouds without their permission.
Where a lot of contemporary movies aimed at dads who miss ‘80s muscle movies really get silly is where they get explicitly political, usually with some sort of shout-out to the prepper crowd. Greenland doesn’t do this because it wasn’t written for this audience, with Butler and his production troupe only swooping in after Chris Evans and Neill Blomkamp stepped away from the project. It has the obnoxious pick-up trucks and the old school guns, but they’re in the background, obviously useless against a city-sized meteor. Without that sort of specific fringe advocacy, there’s nothing to make fun of, and we’re left with an emotionally poignant film in its absence – see Deepwater Horizon for another example of a staunchly conservative film that remains emotionally gripping because it doesn’t get weird.
What sets Greenland apart is its beauty and humanity. It’s got an intense, distinctive orange and green color palette with the greens turned all the way up on suburban grass and trees and Clarke turning the day sky an eerie orange. Color always seems like a basic thing to praise about a movie, but it goes a long way in distinguishing an individual film. Greenland would be instantly recognizable from many of its individual frames, and there are a lot of movies that can’t make that claim.
Even as digital cinematography made it easier to achieve, intentional use of color as a distinctive storytelling device has gotten kind of rare, and Greenland’s bichromatic palette of colors that aren’t complementary is especially strange. Their clash, the clash of safety on the ground and danger in the sky, brings the film to life, and the fact that these colors don’t go together by design emphasizes the discomfort and unnatural state of affairs.
The human drama is also deeply affecting, mostly thanks to terrific, desperate performances from Butler and Baccarin and Chris Sparling’s screenplay, richly laden with conflicts.
The basic mechanics of telling any story is using conflict to reveal character, and Greenland gets to its characters directly early and often. This movie doesn’t have any direct solidarity with our predicament in 2020, no more than the other disaster movies Mendelson mentions at least, but that’s what it does have for this moment – characters who are incisively forced to reveal their priorities and reexamine them in the face of a future that isn’t happening.
Simply put, it’s a visually and emotionally strong film.