Quick Reviews: 'Greenland', 'News Of The World' | Gerard Butler Survives, Tom Hanks Returns A Child
Whenever a movie doesn't have the means that most have in the genre it's working in, you can either expect something watered down and not impressive, or there's a certain grounded aesthetic which serves simpler stories. When it comes to Greenland, directed by Ric Roman Waugh and written by Chris Sparling, we opt out of a huge VFX spectacle and insane world building of most disaster films to instead set the sights on one family's story through that disaster.
That core family is dad John (Gerard Butler), mom Allison (Morena Baccarin) and their 7-year-old son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) who get a presidential alert to evacuate to safety after large pieces of a comet are expected to hit the Earth. Their neighbouring families don't get this message and Nathan's diabetes also throws a curveball to the ''selection'' which would fly them to bunkers in Greenland. Focusing on this family is the thing that makes the movie so surprising and eventually captivating, in the process you don't need to know all the details about the disaster because you're on the ground with them just trying to survive.
Greenland gets to a thriving start with its setup and how well it's executed in the first 15 minutes. There's smart choice after another and another, whether that is experiencing the first disastrous strike at John's eye level in the front yard of their house, not explaining the evacuation until the family figures it out or making Nathan feel like an actual 7-year-old and not relying on the ''kid does bad, things get bad'' trope of these kinds of films. Tension keeps just growing and growing, the air and skies get more orange from the destruction and humans are seen panicking just like they would during a disaster. Moments where the family members get separated are all well timed with thought-out reasons and that does reflect their overall dynamic which is that they are still close despite the parents' marital problems (those aren't thankfully explored through exposition in the beginning but with character-introducing scenes).
That separation and survivor's panic is bolstered by the actors, being either the main three or supporting pieces who pop in and out of the story. Baccarin does a lot of heavy lifting emotionally, Butler takes hold of the action and Waugh gets a fine performance by the young Floyd in scenes where Nathan is feeling distress and straight-up fear. Scott Glenn turns up as Allison's father briefly but so effectively that you'll even wonder his destiny at the end.
Much of the resolution that Greenland ends up at isn't terrible per se but it is noticeably weaker than the setup and doom in the first half. The ending especially felt too safe and there is some repetition when it comes to the family trying to get back together. Maybe that is where the budget reserved for VFX (which are still very solid by the way) took away the opportunity for wilder twists and turns. Good thing is that we have characters to care about beyond their fates, unlike in other movies dealing with disasters where people are just crushed to concrete.
Smileys: Atmosphere, acting
Frowneys: Minor issues with story and ending
Maybe we shouldn't hitchhike even if there's a comet incoming? Just a thought.
NEWS OF THE WORLD
It wouldn't be awards season without a film featuring Tom Hanks, you could say, and therefore you shall be presented with News Of The World. Directed by Paul Greengrass and adapted to the big screen by him and Luke Davies from a novel of the same name, the world showcased is Texas in 1870 after the Civil War where a travelling newsreader and former Confederate army captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks) finds a lynched black man and a young girl named Cicada (Helena Zengel) nearby, whom the man was accompanying. The girl turns out to be Johanna Leonberger by her birth name, having been taken in by a Native American tribe as a baby and speaking only Kiowa instead of either English or her native German.
Kidd sets out to return Johanna to her closest living relatives which takes the two on a difficult and long journey in the dangerous south as they try to find ways to understand each other. It's a simple story which Greengrass doesn't try to mess with too much so unlike the duo's journey, for the viewer it is rather pleasant with no real surprises.
Technically the film commits to necessary qualities of westerns efficiently across the board as DoP Dariusz Wolski finds ways to portray Texas-sized landscapes in New Mexico. Maybe the realistic shakiness of the carriage is sometimes overused but on the other hand all the night time action is captured insanely well, bouncing the light tastefully and letting practical sources like campfire do its job as the time period controls much of that. Minimalism with inside settings is equally tasteful. Much of production design and costume work is there to support and supporting is something they do well, however the shot selection isn't all that interested in showing anything beyond that which might've been a missed chance. Visual effects are most likely there for painting over things but with bigger elements like a sandstorm, they weren't used to make the duo's journey much more exciting visually either.
Speaking of the duo, Hanks and Zengel do find their groove rather quickly which was deadly essential for ''News'' to work at all. Greengrass keeps them at the centre of the frames all the way through, especially Zengel, so they're not quite able to test their limits but Hanks' command of wordplay and her moments of silence compliment each other adequately. Silence is also a good tool to use because the film's sound has a lot on its plate constantly, with James Newton Howard's busy score, tons of sound effects (carriage, guns, wind, nature) and chatter of the town's people.
Sound overall is effectively used to build the world beyond the camera, highlight being one chase and gunfight sequence at the hills which balances all the pieces. News Of The World never explodes into thrills nor is it interested in diving into Kidd's questionable past or the region's relationship with Native Americans but the child-and-father-figure storyline has enough sweet moments to work, being indeed very much pleasant.
Smileys: Cinematography, sound mixing
You'll also know exactly how it will end and that's just fine in this case.