Circling back to two movies I recently watched, with capsule reviews of Greenland and I Care a Lot:
Ric Roman Waugh’s Greenland takes us into an impending apocalypse, following John (Gerard Butler), a prominent architect, who lives with his estranged wife, Allison (Morena Baccarin) and their son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd). Upon the occasion of a comet nearing the earth – meant to be a novelty, a celebratory event – something has gone horribly wrong, and large fragments of the rock are barreling towards Earth. It doesn’t take a very big piece to eradicate an entire city, and more is certain to come. It’s a planet-threatening event, but John’s line of work has offered him a rarefied opportunity, as the government has selected him as one of the critical few who will be evacuated off to a bunkered safe zone to rebuild whatever’s left of the world. But everything goes awry: unable to bring his family along (Nathan is diabetic, and the evacuation program will not accept people with pre-existing conditions), further complications leave the family completely separated from each other amid existential chaos and complete societal collapse. The film chronicles their desperate attempts, not only to reunite, but to then figure out how to escape to the evacuation point – you might be able to guess the location from the film’s title – with less than 24 hours to go before the largest chunk of the comet crashes through the atmosphere, with the vast majority of humanity doomed to perish in the impact.
Waugh, working from a script by Chris Sparling, reflects upon the magnitude of every second passing in this world. While Greenland certainly has its share of big action setpieces – navigating vehicles through the mayhem of small meteor strikes, depicting the devastation of their effects on the ground – it’s certainly more contemplative than the biggest, loudest studio blockbuster version of this story would have any opportunity to be. The film thinks about what it would feel like to live through this, and can honestly depict the family’s towering, unimaginable fears as they search for each other. But in the end, there are so many other occasions when the movie can’t quite give the other characters as much energy and thought as it gives Butler’s John. The entire cast strives to anchor the material with sincere dedication, but even when the film is solely fixated on Allison or Nathan, they still feel distinctly less palpable than John, which is a problem when one considers that John isn’t that distinctively written or imagined to begin with. The movie certainly has its moments of thrilling involvement and attempts at genuine emotional exploration and relevance, but they’re largely relegated to the film’s start, and the longer it goes on, the more it feels like it’s struggling to bring everything together.
I Care a Lot
Through all the sweeping twists and turns that J Blakeson’s I Care a Lot makes, and all its grand attempts at satire and social commentary, the film struggles to see the forest for the trees. It can’t meet its array of ideas into something cohesive, and constantly feels like a movie about to say something. However, this does not reflect badly on the film’s actors; particular praise must be given to Rosamund Pike, who delivers a compelling lead performance as Marla, a con artist who earns a living by placing elderly people under her guardianship as wards, and then fleecing them of their life savings. She’s grown her crimes into a small business, working with her partner, Fran (Eiza González), compromised doctors, and nursing homes who are in on the con. She has just taken on a new mark, an otherwise healthy woman named Jennifer (Dianne Weist), but as she clears out Jennifer’s accounts and legally separates her from her family, she discovers something significant: this woman is actually the mother of Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage), a member of the Russian mafia. Roman and his associates know what Marla is doing, and are onto her. From here, a furiously written thriller emerges, as Marla struggles to keep herself and her associates above water in light of her powerful newfound foes, who seem to be the only people actually capable of challenging her operation.
There are times when it’s certainly involving to watch this all unfold. Pike’s performance as Marla is engaging and multifaceted, both in the breezy nature of how she pulls off her con, and when the complications of the plot are in their starkest depths. But it’s an early sign of the missed opportunities throughout I Care A Lot when one stops to think more about the cast. Though the actors all gamely perform their roles, one can’t help but think about how many, like Weist, seem incredibly underused, only popping in for an occasional scene or line before being apparently forgotten. Perhaps it is possible that the movie rides more on its ensemble than anything else: Blakeson’s script is just flimsy. It wants to sharply, mercilessly satirize the capitalist structures and corporate manipulations that Marla makes use of – pointedly, of course, all in service of personal profit at the direct expense of helpless others – but it can’t do so in any real depth. The story moves, scattershot, from idea to idea without getting a hold on where its characters are within its world, and when it moves to some truly tricky territory in its final act, it not only doesn’t stick the landing, it backs off on its own move to begin with, wrapping up with an abrupt and condescending finale, as if worried the viewers would not understand how it felt about its characters. Blakeson has imagined their unsavory actions in service of a greater point, but at so many key junctures throughout the movie, it can’t match the daring, witty spirit of its best achievements in building the commentary it wants to establish.