Promised Land

Jan 2, 2013

"What the frack!"

Promised Land
Grade: B-
Director: Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting)
Screenplay: John Krasinski (Brief Interviews with Hideous Men), Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting),
Cast: Krasinski (Big Miracle), Damon (We Bought a Zoo)
Rating: R
by John DeSando 

To frack or not to frack, that’s the question.  Given Matt Damon’s well-known environmental advocacy, you could bet the farm that the film he co-produces, co-writes, and stars in will favor not fracking. You’d be right except that director Gus Van Sant, John Krasinski, and Damon have crafted a sometimes manipulative drama that settles none of the issues but gives you an easy-going time at the movies.

Corporate salesman Steve Butler (Damon) comes to a small farming community to get leases from individual farms to dig for natural gas.  Playing on the fears of slowly encroaching poverty in bad times, the corporation seems initially to have an easy time of it. Not to worry, because conflict comes in the person of an environmentalist, Dustin Noble (John Krasiniski), and a noble science teacher, Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook). Steve is in for a fight.

So far so good as some arguing about the disadvantages of breaking into the ground clashes with the company’s ability to pay large sums that will mitigate poverty and provide new schools and quality infrastructure. However, the plot then devolves into a cute romance for Steve and teacher Alice (Rosemarie De Witt) and a silly plot twist that puts Nemesis in her proper place but does nothing to further the necessary arguments on both sides. It becomes just a low-grade thriller that doesn’t even help further the liberal cause.

In other words, Damon and crew sell out the way farmers might sell out their inheritances—talking a great game but caving into commercialism given the rewards of a successful movie.  And we all know a successful film too frequently requires a facile plot with not too much dialogue. Too bad because a couple of dialogues are first-rate, especially the banter between Alice and Steve, and mostly Steve’s monologue at the bar with the rednecks, reminiscent of Damon’s work in Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting.

Linus Sandgren’s aerial photography of the farms is clichéd but still beautiful; Danny Elfman’s score as always serves the drama in its usually unobtrusive way. In the end, it’s a nice little film if you don’t ask too much of it. If you think of the logical inconsistencies, you might just blurt out, “What the frack!”

John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at
He also appears on Fox 28’s Man Panel
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