DVD Review - Promised Land

Matt Damon and John Krasinski both write and star in this story about fracking. Fracking is the process of drilling for natural gas. The process, however, results in pollution of the ground and water. Matt Damon plays Steve Butler, a corporate agent working for Global Crosspower, a natural gas company that wants to start fracking in a rural town called McKinley. John Krasinski plays Dustin Noble, an environmentalist who is protesting the company, claiming fracking is too destructive and dangerous. Both Steve and Dustin have to persuade the townspeople of one way or the other. Steve argues financial rewards and progress. Dustin argues against pollution and for tradition.

This film follows the Oscar-nominated GasLand (2010), which is an outright indictment against fracking. This film initially presents itself as a debate, an interesting back-and-forth or tug-of-war where both sides are presented fairly. By the end, this film though proves itself to be just as much of an indictment as the documentary. It's simply an indictment on a corporation's public relations and manipulative tactics in that regard, rather than an indictment on the fracking itself.

Directed by Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting and Milk), this movie has some things happening that felt off and wrong. It's clear that the overall tone moves toward everyone choosing to side against fracking, but thanks to the way Damon writes and plays his character, the audience ends up rooting for Steve to succeed and help Global Crosspower to begin fracking.

Yes, fracking is unsafe, but so are the alternatives. Towns like McKinley hardly have the money to develop green energy or get themselves out of the current state of poverty they now have. Steve makes great points. Coal, oil and nuclear also produce pollution. Oil in particular comes from the Middle East and has terrorist concerns attached. Unless the people want to give up electricity and modern technology, they need energy, so the question is where is that energy going to come from. They want to believe that fracking is the greater of two evils, but is that really true or can't it be improved?

That's not really explored or delved any deeper. Damon and Krasinski have fun with the rivalry, the tug-of-war, but they introduce a twist that kill the whole fracking issue and even the financial issue. It makes everything black-and-white and obvious where the movie should go. The twist also shows how a corporation like Global Crosspower can stake the deck and manipulate whole towns to its advantage, but ultimately it only shows how the screenwriters here have stacked the deck.

Frances McDormand co-stars as Sue Thomason, another agent of Global Crosspower. She has a flirtation with Titus Welliver who plays a gun shop owner that never goes anywhere. McDormand and Welliver have chemistry, but the movie drops a potential romance there. What is also dropped is the answer to the question, which is if Sue knew what the twist was from the beginning.

The other question that is unanswered is why does Dustin reveal what the twist is at all. Someone as dedicated and smart as Dustin not anticipating the backlash is silly. Why Global Crosspower would react the way it does based on the words of Frank Yates, played by Hal Holbrook, is an extreme over-reaction.

The movie ultimately doesn't show what the town of McKinley decides about what they're going to do about the fracking issue. The movie builds to a vote that the town is supposed to have. Unlike the ending to Lincoln (2012), Gus Van Sant doesn't show how the people actually vote. We're left to guess.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 46 mins.


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