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Promised Land - Movie Review

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Promised Land - Movie Review

2 stars

In Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land, screenwriters Matt Damon and John Krasinski present a well-rounded, yet emotionally-charged argument that attempts to build a compelling film around the controversial process of natural gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” So why then, does Promised Land fail to strike a triumphant chord with its message of good old-fashioned American values and the lengths we’ll go to protect what’s important to us?

That answer may lie within our own views of “fracking” and whether we believe it is a necessary evil. Most, like myself, understand the importance of weaning ourselves from foreign oil dependency while simultaneously recognizing the inherent environmental dangers of the dubious process we deploy to get to the ample stores of natural gas sitting right below our feet. In other words, Promised Land'smessage is seriously neutered by an issue with no easy solution and one we’d really rather not think about. And initially, the filmmakers play it a bit too much straight down the middle to make a compelling film that plays into our sensibilities while also challenging our convictions. That is, until the film’s third act where a ham-fisted twist and preachy, long-winded speeches are neither as persuasive nor as crafty as they want to be.

Matt Damon is Steve Butler, a middle-America everyman who left the dying farming community where he grew up for better opportunities in the city. He now works for a large global oil company trying to persuade the small town McKinley community to lease the drilling rights of their farmland to his $9 billion company. But the recession-addled townspeople have doubts about whether this is a good thing or not - sound familiar? - and in most cases cave in despite their convictions and sell out to keep their multi-generational farm from foreclosure.

Butler is accompanied by Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) who assists in the deceptive ruse which Butler delivers with a knowing nod because he himself “comes from the heartland and is able to speak the language of these people.”

But it turns out this trait is both a strength and a weakness as Butler also understands the adverse effects of injecting the earth with water, high pressure, and toxic chemicals that can leach into the water supply and ultimately kill plants and livestock. Yet most townfolk are willing to risk the environmental hazards for their own piece of the fiscal pie. That is until Dustin Noble (John Krasinski) shows up to become Butler’s instant foil as an environmentalist hoping to convince everyone of fracking’s dangers.

Directed by Gus Van Sant, who also helmed Damon’s previous screenplays in the form of Good Will Hunting and Gerry, Promised Land is a solid executional effort, and features top-notch performances from the cast that includes Hal Holbrook who took time away from his Mark Twain one-man show to give a memorable turn as the local high school science teacher who is the only one to question Butler’s motives. It’s a beautiful thing to see the wily old veteran act circles around the cast of actors who are A-listers in their own right. Too bad the overwritten script let’s him down in the second half with preachy diatribes addressing the dangers of fracking and overtly pleasant little Rockwell-ian vignettes about the innocence of farm life.

The romantic attraction on display between Damon’s Butler and high school teacher Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt) is pleasant enough, if not a blatant product of Hollywood storytelling, as is that from McDormand and shop keeper Rob (Titus Welliver). Damon and Krasinski also display an interesting opposing chemistry, but there’s just not enough conflict and tension… until the big twist finally rolls around which lurches the pleasant little politically correct fairy-tale into full-on scandal mode a la Michael Clayton. It’s all too late though.

There’s really nothing to hate in Promised Land. Fracking is certainly an important issue and one worthy of further discussion and consideration. It’s just disheartening to see a film so passionate in its message and intention become so dimly commonplace.

Promised Land - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: R for language.
Runtime:
106 mins.
Director
: Gus Van Sant
Writer
: Matt Damon and John Krasinski
Cast:
Matt Damon; John Krasinski; Frances McDormand; Hall Holbrook; Rosemarie DeWitt
Genre
: Drama
Tagline:
What's your price?
Memorable Movie Quote: "You guys have closed more towns than the guys behind you by triple digits."
Distributor:
Focus Features.
Official Site:
focusfeatures.com/promised_land
Release Date: December 28, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available.

Synopsis: Matt Damon plays Steve Butler, an ace corporate salesman who is sent along with his partner, Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand), to close a key rural town in his company's expansion plans. With the town having been hit hard by the economic decline of recent years, the two outsiders see the local citizens as likely to accept their company's offer, for drilling rights to their properties, as much-needed relief. What seems like an easy job for the duo becomes complicated by the objection of a respected schoolteacher (Hal Holbrook) with support from a grassroots campaign led by another man (John Krasinski), as well as the interest of a local woman (Rosemarie DeWitt). Promised Land explores America at the crossroads where big business and the strength of small-town community converge.

No details available.

 

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