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Promised Land

2012 | 105 min | R | 1.85:1

Promised Land


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Theatrical release date

 28 December, 2012
 19 April, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Promised Land


Screenshots from Promised Land Blu-ray

Promised Land Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, December 28, 2012

“Promised Land” is a film filled with unfinished business. Reteaming director Gus Van Sant with co-writer/star Matt Damon (after their work on “Good Will Hunting” and “Gerry”), the picture is a messy affair with a killer hook, bringing a critical environmental issue to the forefront without much of a game plan to dissect it. Convincing for the first two acts, “Promised Land” has an adequate grip on character and offers a slew of terrific performances. It’s an interesting movie, but never reaches the greatness or significance it imagines for itself, cursed with a dreadful conclusion that’s strangely non-committal considering all the passions swirling around the material.

A rep with multi-billion dollar energy company, Steve (Matt Damon) finds himself nearing a crucial promotion, taking on another job with partner Sue (Frances McDormand) as his future is determined. Their objective is to blend in with a small town in rural America, using salesmanship to encourage the locals to sign leases allowing the outside company to expose their land to “fracking,” a chemically-flooded method of drilling for natural gas deposits. Promising big money to desperate locals, Steve and Sue are confident they will be able to secure the town majority, only to find their efforts rebuffed by Frank (Hal Holbrook), an educated local who understands the poisonous dangers of fracking. Also disrupting the campaign is Dustin (John Krasinski, who also co-scripts), a volunteer with an environment protection group who rolls into town hoping to persuade the community that land and health is more important than quick cash. Facing a challenge for the first time in his career, Steve works diligently to undermine Dustin’s plan of attack, while romantic interest in schoolteacher Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt) distracts him from the cause.

Fracking is a relatively new issue hitting documentary and dramatic efforts, finding “Promised Land” in a rare position of originality, inspired by writings from author Dave Eggers. What Damon and Krasinski aim for is not a complete discussion of greed, but personal responsibility, with Steve the Faustian figure out to sign up as many farmers and rural folk as he can for the lowest price possible, promising land owners a bright future of financial ease, away from their harsh daily struggles. Steve’s a salesman eager to secure his own comfort with the corporation, working with confidence and a script to collect signatures, prepared for any concerns raised by those leery of such a miraculous deal. Recalling his own past in a fading farming community, Steve isn’t out to destroy, only to acquire, and in the script’s most inspired observation, he doesn’t even really comprehend what fracking is all about. As he repeats throughout the movie, Steve isn’t a “bad guy,” just a suit (or in this case, a flannel-and-boots) trying to make his numbers, looking for job security like anyone else.

Complications arrive in the form of Dustin and the persuasive manner in which he smashes Steve’s illusion of trust, even working to acquire Alice’s attention. He’s a persistent thorn in the company man’s side, instigating an interesting war of information that makes up the majority of “Promised Land,” watching the two swing at each other as Steve panics, with his plan of domination ruined by an unusually effective spoiler, one who uses bribe money to buy signs and flyers, while demonstrating exactly what fracking is to schoolchildren (and the audience). The script achieves a sharp sense of tension as the sides escalate their warfare, while examining the divide in the town, with some refusing Steve’s offer outright, offended by such a proposition of destruction, while others, including rube Paul (Lucas Black), treat the opportunity like a gold strike, unaware of the lowball offer gifted to them. The conflicts are handled with directness by Van Sant, who embraces the discomfort facing Steve, generating a decent amount of uneasiness that propels “Promised Land” into meaningful areas of conversation.

The final act of the film falls completely apart, as though Damon and Krasinski lost interest in their mission, pulling an ending out of a hat just to close out the story. Subplots are left unresolved or unexplained, while a false air of moral awakening permeates the conclusion, stripping away the complexity of the fracking argument and Steve’s baby steps toward a rural boy rebirth. “Promised Land” is actually quite convincing for most of its running time, with Van Sant painting an interesting portrait of small town blues. There’s just no closer to the work that reinforces the conviction of the early going, leaving the final summation short on reality and basic dramatic follow-through.

Starring: Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand, Hal Holbrook, Rosemarie DeWitt, Lucas Black
Director: Gus Van Sant

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