Gus Van Sant and Matt Damon team up for the environmental drama, ‘Promised Land.’ Their previous collaboration was ‘Good Will Hunting’ that Van Sant directed and Damon won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Damon cowrote ‘Promised Land’ with the affable John Krasinski (The Office). Strong acting and Van Sant’s storytelling genius make this film a “fracking” winner. Pardon my French. “Fracking” is the mining process used to shoot high-pressured water into the rock and soil to bring out the natural gas. It’s controversial. Some say it is a harmless process. Others say it contaminates the groundwater and farmland. This endearing film puts a human face on the polarizing topic.
The story centers on two natural gas execs, Steve Butler (Matt Damon) and Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand). They are good at what they do. They are so good they could probably sell you swampland in Florida. It is their job to win over the folks of a small town so they can extract the natural gas deposits underneath their property. The dialogue between Steve and Sue is funny. This is just another small town to them (it could be Idaho). Steve genuinely believes he is doing the right thing for the town. He comes from a farming community in Iowa that was devastated by a Caterpillar plant closure.
For some reason, for Steve, this town is a little different. It reminds him of the town where he grew up. When he goes to the local bar and meets a schoolteacher, Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt), she literally drinks him under the table. He keeps telling her, “I’m not a bad guy.” When an environmentalist Dustin Noble (John Krasinski) comes to town, he starts posting signs and passing out fliers to demonize Steve’s company aptly named Global Crosspower Solutions. Steve and Sue will do whatever it takes to silence Dustin; even passing him bribery money in a yellow envelope.
The dynamic between Steve and Sue is the best aspect of the movie. This is due to Frances McDormand’s stellar performance. She is an amazing actress. She plays a single mother that is pragmatic about her job. She says, “It’s just a job.” Even though the audience knows what she is doing is not in the best interests of the small town, you cannot help but like her. She knows just the right buttons to push with the other mothers wanting a good education for their kids. She also shows a little vulnerability when she meets a smooth-talking store owner named Rob (Titus Welliver).
The voice of reason in the town is Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook). This octogenarian is a retired scientist who knows full well that "fracking" has its downsides. The story drops a huge plot twist in the third act. It is a real zinger. Some may view it as a cheap shot in the story but it does paint a clear picture of what the townsfolk are up against. Van Sant paces the film extremely well. He allows the characters to drive the story. With such a stellar cast, he made the right decision.
‘Promised Land’ is now playing at Edwards Boise 22 Stadium, The Flicks theatre and Majestic Cinemas –Meridian.