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Review: Promised Land – Flimsy finale fracks farm film

Posted by on January 4, 2013 – 12:03 am
Promised Land© 2012 – Focus Features

You have to give Matt Damon props for working his way up through the film industry to where he has the financial and professional clout to make movies that are important to him, like his latest effort, Promised Land. Unfortunately, while I’m certain his intentions are honorable, his movie is ironically manipulative in the same way that it condemns big natural gas corporations for deceptively convincing rural farming communities that their fracking techniques are safe.

Promised Land was financed in part by the OPEC petroleum company Image Nation Abu Dhabi, a business that is in direct competition with the natural gas companies that are depicted in a negative light in this film. This fact is already stirring controversy over this movie and will most likely detract from the film’s message (as it obviously has already done with my film review.)

So why interject politics into a movie review? Well, at its core, Promised Land is a film about politics and its message is far from being fair and balanced (not that I’m defending fracking, mind you.) Bruce Springsteen’s music is invoked more than once in this movie, so let me just throw in my own Springsteen quote regarding this movies content. “Blind faith in your leaders, or in anything, will get you killed.”

Damon plays Steve Butler, a man who has experienced the evils of corporate machinations when his small hometown was devastated by the closing of manufacturing plant. Now he’s climbing the big-business ladder with a natural gas company that is buying up the drilling rights on the properties owned by families in a small farming community.

Promised Land© 2012 – Focus Features

Steve is accompanied by his partner, Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand), and the two cruise into town, buy up farming clothes and transportation, so they can fit in with the locals, then go door-to-door trying to convince the residents that they’re going to be rich and that hydraulic fracking, a drilling technique that allegedly contaminates the ground and water table, is absolutely safe for the land and the environment.

The farmers, who have suffered under the poor economy, are eager for a financial windfall, but they are worried things are too good to be true. The local science teacher, Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook), convinces the town to take a vote on whether to permit the drilling or not, and that’s when environmentalist Dustin Noble (John Krasinski ) shows up and stats adding to their fears, showing them pictures of dead farm animals from another fracking location.

The story then becomes a battle of wits between Steve and Dustin to see who will win over the property owners; the two are also awkwardly competing for the attention of the sexy schoolmarm, Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt), who, apparently, is instantly attracted to any man from out of town.

It’s great to see Hal Holbrook making a comeback in films this year. The 87 year-old veteran actor, who has starred in everything from Clint Eastwood’s Magnum Force (1973) to this year’s Lincoln, adds some weight to this movie as he delivers an always impeccable performance. The entire cast does a great job and many local residents from the town of Avonmore, Pennsylvania, were used as extras in this film as well.

Promised Land© 2012 – Focus Features

This movie was co-written by John Krasinski (who you will recognize as Jim Halpert from The Office) and Matt Damon, who you might remember won an Academy Award for co-writing Good Will Hunting with his friend Ben Affleck.  Promised Land was originally to be directed by Damon as well, but after scheduling conflicts the ball was passed to long time Damon collaborator, director Gus Van Sant (also of Good Will Hunting fame).

Damon has many talents, he is an excellent actor, he obviously has a good and charitable heart and he has some serious writing abilities as well; but for me, the Promised Land script is hit & miss, as there is some fantastic, honest dialogue in this movie that I really enjoyed, but there are other sequences that are very stereotypical and patronizing.

Promised Land wraps with an absurd ending (which I won’t spoil) that hampers what is an otherwise decent little picture about small town politics and corporate manipulation; and after you add in the behind-the-scenes backing of this movie, the whole thing, however well-intentioned, seems poisoned with ill-conceived purpose.  Grade: 5/10

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