The decade of the 1980s, as often as it reveals a wealth of historically indignant movies, does not get enough credit for its diversity of filmfare comprising juvenile topics ranging from the titillation to the tragedy of restless youth. This was a high life time when it was politically trendy to forget common men and celebrate the age of excess. But a night at the picture show gauged full effects of how trickle down theories applied to those who fell short of the last 10 years of US greatness.
Promised Land, the first entrant commissioned by the Sundance Film Festival and directed by Michael Hoffman, was a blip on box office radar in limited release. But while it made no one rich as the art house message vehicle of indie upstart Vestron Pictures, it stuck a chord as a small town gone bad soap opera. A fable of how failure to leave home in a bad economy can lead to ill fate in a haphazard coincidence of karma where neither land nor luck is promised to anyone.
As social archetypes representing the yin and yang of post high school missed fortune, Jason Gedrick and Keifer Sutherland star as a jock and a nerd whose lives wander astray from their dreams of upward mobility in a town that offers little to those who stick around. As the stage is set for their downward spiral, Gedrick misses out on a college football scholarship to become a cop and Sutherland can't realize his potential by lost virtue of a bad marriage to bride Meg Ryan.
Their paths cross when in the end Keifer's character hits rock bottom in a holiday depression display given news that his father is sick and dying. As a reaction of misplaced macho diversion, he then robs a liquor store and is shot dead by Gedrick in the line of duty. This is a tough movie to take for happy ending fans. But it works as a film because you never see the juxtaposition of the coincidental third act confrontation coming. So it hits you in the gut like a message film should.
Of course we no longer suffer as much of a lack of compassion or conscience given the new age consequence of modern economic challenges on the young down and out. But this hard movie is reminiscent of a time when it was still ok to tackle difficult subject matter without prejudgments on entertainment value. PL also serves as a serious intro to the cinema art of actor Keifer Sutherland before he jumped ship to the small screen through no loss of his star power as a household icon.
The best way to recommend this unsung downer is as an anti-escapist realist cautionary tale for those who might lose hope in times of trouble. Its tight non-subplot wasted script never drags and stark performances make it all the more relevant as a worse case scenario storyline the hardship shaped can learn from. Get it on DVD or rental to be scared straight.