PLOT: A man (Gerard Butler) desperately tries to save his family in the midst of an apocalyptic event.
REVIEW: Gerard Butler has a good thing going with director Ric Roman Waugh. For those unaware, a few years ago Waugh directed one of the best action-dramas of the decade, Shot Caller . No doubt Butler or his people saw it and decided Waugh would be a good fit for the kind of grounded action vehicles Butler specializes in. Together, they managed to reignite the …Has Fallen franchise, and GREENLAND, despite a premise that could have lent itself to an empty-headed disaster flick, ranks as another top-shelf Butler programmer. It’s arguably his best all-around film since Olympus Has Fallen.
In something of a departure for him, Butler plays middle-aged family man without any discernible bad-ass bonafides. He’s not ex-army or anything like that. Rather, he’s a structural engineer. When a comet looks certain to decimate all life on earth, his knowledge- thanks to his profession- is at a premium, landing him a spot in the underground sanctuaries built to maintain some semblance of humanity. The film is about Butler’s attempts to get his estranged wife (Morena Baccarin) and diabetic son to one of these sanctuaries – easier said than done when any number of desperate souls want the same opportunity, and will kill to take their place.
Waugh keeps Greenland moving at a propulsive pace. As usual for his films, the emphasis isn’t on eye candy or spectacle. That all takes a backseat to Butler’s attempts to save his family, with a ticking clock in the background giving the film a real sense of tension. Notably, there are no real good guys and bad guys here — everyone is more or less a shade of grey. People do terrible things, but they’re trying to survive. Even Butler’s not above taking a life if it means protecting his family, making this a thematic cousin in some ways to Shot Caller (with that film’s memorable bad guy, Holt McCallany, having a juicy third act cameo).
Butler gives one of his best performances as the flawed family man hero. He seems to relish playing a more-or-less normal guy, while Morena Baccarin is likable as his estranged wife, with all of their marital problems taking a back seat pretty quickly once the premise kicks in. I like the idea that the couple, once the shit hits the fan, unite immediately to protect their sickly son – making them convincing on-screen parents who are willing to do whatever it takes to protect their child.
Unlike many disaster films, the movie isn’t an ensemble, with the focus specifically on Butler and Baccarin, although Scott Glenn has a nice part as Butler’s tough guy father-in-law. Waugh does seem to know what he’s doing as far as rough-edged, grounded action flicks go, and Greenland is a very solid entry. Like many other films this year, it was originally slated for a theatrical release (and it was a worldwide hit in several territories earlier this year) but is now hitting PVOD before a bow on HBO Max in 2021. Given the emphasis on drama and characterization, this doesn’t suffer going the streaming route, and it’s an entertaining, well-crafted vehicle for Butler that ranks among his best.