When making a film of this type, particularly within the Hollywood system, there really is only way it will end -- with a big, life-altering, redeeming speech. And unfortunately, even though the conclusion is this movie's biggest problem, there is no plausible alternative. So Promised Land
is inherently flawed, but the journey to self-destruction is mostly enjoyable.
Steve Butler (Matt Damon) and Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) work for Global, a natural gas company. It's their job to go into small, rural towns and convince the residents to sell the corporation the rights to drill on their land. Steve is so good at his job, he's being considered for a promotion. But when a high school teacher (Hal Holbrook) leads a group to oppose the deal, an environmental activist (John Krasinski) seizes an opportunity to make an example of the community’s stand against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
This is a David vs. Goliath or little guy vs. big industry story. Therefore, a town triumph would have been more acceptable at the end than the personal epiphany experienced by the protagonist. The focus of the narrative suddenly becomes all about Steve, and his feelings and experiences. It simply doesn't mesh well with the rest of the film, which seemed to be about something larger. Though the cynics among viewers may have actually hoped for the darker, and probably more realistic, last act.
The film was also written and produced by stars Damon and Krasinski. Damon was supposed to direct as well, but decided that was one too many hats to wear on one production. Instead, Gus Van Sant, who also directed Damon's Good Will Hunting
, took the helm. Since the film is dialogue driven, this was an appropriate choice as the director has a résumé filled with eloquent dramas. In addition, he plays with some of the scenes; showing two motel rooms in a spilt-screen so it appears the characters are sharing a bed, and moving the camera behind one person's head so his conversation partner is entirely hidden for a brief moment, indicating the tables are about to turn.
Damon and McDormand have great chemistry together. Their exchanges are witty and naturally in sync, embodying the illusion that they're long time co-workers and friends. Their relationship and banter is one of the most enjoyable elements in the film. Damon slathers on his usual charm, immediately becoming the guy audiences are meant to root for and support in every circumstance. Krasinski is subtler but still likeable, filled with confidence and an unwavering sense of right. A smaller but memorable role is played by Titus Welliver, proprietor and namesake of “Rob's Guns, Groceries, Guitars and Gas.” Rosemarie DeWitt is sweet and fun, though her character appears to be more of a pawn in a larger game.
There will be some controversy about the picture's representation of natural gas companies and fracking since they are portrayed as the villain in the movie. But hopefully it will lead to further discussion and awareness.
Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Matt Damon
, Frances McDormand
and John Krasinski