Promised Land


2013 | 106 minutes | Rated R

There are a lot of good intentions muddled up in Promised Land, and a lot of talent, too—the frustrating, almost-great new film is directed by Gus Van Sant, with a story by Dave Eggers and a screenplay from John Krasinski and Matt Damon, who also costar. Promised Land is a film with an agenda disguised as a film with no agenda, and if that sort of thing doesn’t make you a little bit mad, well… then you should go see it! ’Cause otherwise it’s really good. The freakishly likable Damon plays Steve, a modern-day traveling salesman employed by the omiously named Global Crosspower Solutions. Global is in the natural gas business, and Steve is responsible for explaining to rural communities how fracking (the process of extracting natural gas from rock and shale) is the solution to their financial woes. Steve and his partner, Sue (Francis McDormand, a goddamn national treasure), set out to work their persuasive magic in a bucolic Pennsylvania farming community, a town with a lot of pretty farms and not a whole lot of money. Here, Steve and Sue meet a two-pronged resistance to their efforts, in the form of a smug environmentalist (John Krasinski, well-cast) armed with photos of farms destroyed by fracking and a respected local science teacher (Hal Holbrook) who argues that the science behind fracking isn’t as sound as Global wants people to believe. Promised Land is at its best when it embraces complexity: Steve genuinely believes that fracking represents the salvation of small American towns, while the townspeople are caught between a very real need for income and the worry that allowing fracking on their land will destroy it. But the film ultimately reveals a lack of trust in both the audience and its characters. What began as a reasonably clear-eyed look at the pros and cons of fracking turns into a tale of the Big Bad Corporate Bogeyman—a transformation that’s so exasperating and insulting, it threatens to overshadow the many aspects of Promised Land that are legitimately great. (ALISON HALLETT)

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Film Credits
Gus Van Sant
Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt, Hal Holbrook, Lucas Black, Scoot McNairy, Titus Welliver, Terry Kinney, Tim Guinee, Dorothy Silver, Joe Coyle, Sara Lindsey, Ken Strunk, Karen Baum, Johnny Cicco, Kristin Slaysman, Carrington Vaughn, Cain Alexander