Amazon Prime Video

Greenland is a disaster movie starring Gerard Butler.

I appreciate that in normal circumstances this opening sentence might be enough to dissuade many viewers from the idea of further investigation, so let me quickly add that it’s nothing like the usual Gerard Butler experience. At no point during this film does his character attempt to take on a comet with his bare hands, nor does he stare at the sky and bellow something incomprehensible. Indeed, so restrained is his performance that the nearest he comes to his regular screen persona is in a brief sequence where he buries a clawhammer in someone’s skull – but, even then, he has been severely provoked.

Butler plays structural engineer John Garrity, an everyday Joe, getting though a normal working week, and then hurrying home to try and patch up a failing marriage with estranged wife, Alison (Morena Baccarin), before doing the shopping for his young son’s birthday party. Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) is a diabetic (a fact that will figure prominently later on). He’s excited by the news that a comet, innocuously named Clarke, will soon be passing close by the earth, and it promises to provide quite a light show when its fragments begin to enter the atmosphere.

But in the supermarket, John receives a strange phone call informing him that he, together with his wife and child, have been allotted seats on a military aircraft taking them to ‘an emergency shelter.’ They must drop everything, pack a bag and report to the nearest air force base. John’s first thought is that it’s some kind of hoax. But then parts of Clarke start hitting the earth with terrifying force and all thoughts of a celebration are abandoned as the family’s first consideration becomes an urgent need to make that flight…

Greenland manages to avoid the pitfalls that blight so many of its disaster-movie predecessors. Director Ric Roman Waugh and writer Chris Sparling ensure that everything that happens is kept within the point of view of John and his family – even the inevitable explosive set-pieces are generally glimpsed on screens as they make their way across the country, a device which adds a queasy shot of realism to the proceedings. Unable to make their original flight, the trio head North, first playing a flying visit to Alison’s widowed father, Dale (Scott Glenn), and then making a desperate dash across the border into Canada, in the hope of getting aboard a flight bound for the titular island, where they are assured their only hope of survival lies.

Along the way, they encounter all kinds of hitches, most of them provided by people who haven’t been assigned a seat on a plane and who will go to just about any lengths to get their hands on one. Here is the proof, were it ever needed, that people under pressure are capable of terrible things.

The story mostly holds together (I’m sure I picked up a sizeable plot hole towards the end) and, to give the film its due, it keeps me hooked right up to the end credits and hammers through its two hour running time at a breathless, headlong gallop. It also supplies what must be Butler’s most credible performance yet. Will he follow this new path onwards or go back to his more usual “punch’em ups?” Only time will tell on that score.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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