Review: Promised Land

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Promised Land, not to be confused with the Meg Ryan/Kiefer Sutherland film of 1987 (I saw it, but I remember nothing about it) or the Bruce Springsteen song, is a well-made film about the conundrum of fracking–the extraction of natural gas by destroying shale beds with a variety of chemicals. The film, written by stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski, comes clearly down on the side that fracking is a bad thing, and while I may agree, I found the film to be constructed in such a by-the-numbers fashion that it seems pat.

Damon stars as Steve Butler, a consultant for a big, bad energy company. Trouble is, he thinks of himself as a good guy. More than once he says, “I’m not the bad guy.” From a farming community in Iowa, he knows the family farm is pretty much dead, and delights in being able to offer gobs of money to farmers to escape their dire fates.

He and his partner, Frances McDormand, alight on a town in upstate New York. At first they are greeted with people with dollars signs in their eyes, but a local teacher (Hal Holbrook), who also happens to be an engineer, raises questions at a town meeting. Then an environmentalist (Krasinski) shows up, and Damon undergoes a complete meltdown.

The script does a nice job of exploring the issues of fracking, and the desperation of the farmers involved. If offered millions, I might have to think twice about taking it, even it did poison the Earth. As long as the film sticks to this, and the battle between Damon and Krasinski (and the humorous relationship between Damon and McDormand) the film is very good.

But I felt let down by a subplot detailing Damon’s rivalry with Krasinski over the attentions of the pretty teacher in town (Rosemarie DeWitt), which drags the film into the world of cliche. There is also a “gotcha” twist that, while certainly possible given the ruthlessness of corporations, seems straight out a screenwriting book.

Still, I liked the film. Gus Van Sant directs, and he makes great use of the local scenery. I’ve driven a fair share in rural New York, and while I’m not sure if it was filmed there, it sure looks like it, right down a store called “Guns Gas Guitars Groceries.” As Damon says, “Two hours outside of any city looks like Kentucky.”

Damon, one of our best actors, is spot-on. A scene in which he can’t understand why farmers won’t take the money, which he labels “Fuck you money,” is terrific, because it shows that corporate America is only considered with money–nothing else matters. McDormand, in a sidekick role, also nails it. Krasinski uses the same skill he does in playing Jim Halpert on The Office. He’s the cool guy, but he’s also a bit of an asshole.

My grade for Promised Land: B.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

One response »

  1. I’m probably not as forgiving as you are of the film’s flaws. Krasinski in particular is grating. And it’s clear from the start that this movie only exists to get to Damon’s big conscience speech at the end; as much as I like Damon, I think the movie would have benefitted from a more ruthless central character and an actor who was more willing to go down that road. The Damon from The Talented Mr. Ripley would have been terrific, but he doesn’t seem like that kind of actor anymore.

    Also (partial spoiler here) … Lafayette, Louisiana is not on the coast. What’s up with that? The movie partially hinges on the fact that a photo could not have been taken where it is purported to have been taken, and then they get that detail wrong anyway? Ironic.

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