Promised Land’s brilliance lies in its willingness to tell both sides of a controversial story with some semblance of balance.
The drama opens across the country today (Jan. 4).
Fracking, the process of extracting natural gas by injecting water under high pressure into the ground to fracture shale, has been one of the most environmentally touchy issues in this country, including Northeast Ohio.
It tends to be more popular in rural areas and therein lies the rub. It’s those areas and its way of life that continue to wither on the vine in the United States and Steve Butler (Mat Damon), Sue Thompson (Frances McDormand) and the gas company for whom they work know this.
They’re dispatched to the stereotypical small, Midwestern town where they proceed to trying to buy gas leases from the locals.
Everything is going swimmingly as they pile up the contracts. But when Dustin Noble (John Krasinski of The Office), a representative of a small environmental group shows up that changes.
Noble, a charismatic guy who charms the town folk, ignites a debate among them. He shows them the damage that fracking can cause and the battle for the town’s conscience and way of life begins.
Directed by Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting), Promised Land explores that debate with empathy. There’s little doubt that the money the gas company offers would improve the lives of the town’s residents. But at what cost? To watch the town slowly die and become uninhabitable causing farms that have been owned by families for generations to go under as their land succumbed to the ravages of the process’ aftereffects?
Soon it becomes clear that Steve, who grew up in a small Iowa town, is battling his conscience as well as he realizes the environmental havoc that the deal could wreak. As he goes door-to-door he questions everything he’s selling the towns people and ultimately he has to make a choice.
For much of its runtime, Promised Land is a fascinating look at America’s evolution and how life here has changed – especially in small towns.
Krasinski’s script is mainly crisp and deftly mixes humor and drama, but there’s an unnecessary twist that nearly upends it all because it proves disingenuous.
That aside, Damon once again shows his range as an actor. Known to most as Jason Bourne, the veteran actor portrays Steve as a man who yearns for something more only he doesn’t realize it.
Both McDormand and Krasinski provide the humorous balance to the serious journey he’s traveling upon. Is Promised Land perfect? As a director Van Sant has asked the correct questions related to life, but he likes to linger in scenes too long and that lag shows up in the finished film.
Still, cinematically speaking, there are worst ways to begin the new year.
Movie: Promised Land
Director: Gus Van Sant
Cast: Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, John Krasinski
Studio: Focus Features
Rated: R (language)
Running time: 119 minutes
George’s rating: 3.5-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com