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Review: Promised Land (2012)

Promised Land

Rating

Director
Gus Van Sant
Screenplay
John Krasinski, Matt Damon, Dave Eggars
Length
R for language
Starring
Matt Damon, Hal Holbrook, Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Krasinski, Lucas Black, Scoot McNairy
MPAA Rating
106 min.

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Review
Some claim that hydraulic fracturing is an economically and environmentally viable source of clean energy. Others say that "fracking" it's environmentally disastrous and economically destructive. Promised Land features Matt Damon as a sales executive with a major fracturing company who has arrived in a small town where he will have to decide where his priorities lie.

Damon, along with co-star John Krasinski and Dave Eggars wrote the screenplay for a significant film for today's landscape. While there's been limited coverage of the fracking debate, Promised Land hopes to bring the message to a broader audience. With Damon's pro-environmental history, you can be assured that he may be starting out for fracking, but by the end, he switches course and how he comes about that change is fascinating.

Steve Butler (Damon) is a corporate salesman. Raised in a small town, Steve believes that his company's offer to provide financial compensation to the farms who will cede control over the natural gas rights under their properties. He knows that the company will make far more money off the endeavor than the fraction of money the farmers will receive, but he rationalizes his handling of the situation by remembering the collapse of his small town decades earlier. When an out-of-state environmentalist (Krasinski) arrives to stir up trouble and encourage the town to reject corporate overrun of their natural resources, Steve redoubles his effort to convert as much of the town as possible and urge the city to vote in favor of acquisition.

Every pro-environmental tack employed by Krasinski's Dustin Noble mirrors a real life attempt by various organizations to paint the corporate actions as dangerous, from igniting a farm diorama to show the danger of natural gas seepage caused by the fracturing process to showcasing a photo of a pasture filled with dead cattle, it's clear Noble is on his way to capturing the hearts and minds of the town.

Krasinski is an affable presence in the film and outshines Damon in nearly every scene. In spite of his character's origins and questionable background, this is the type of showman you want protecting your cause. Damon is his charming self, which enables the audience to feel for his character in spite of his questionable persuits. His ultimate turnaround fits perfectly with the character he's established for much of the film. McDormand is reliable and Rosemarie DeWitt, as a local school teacher and farm owner in the community who ultimately convinces Butler to change his impressions of small town folk, is a pleasant addition to the cast.

It's always interesting to see how humanistic director Gus Van Sant's approach to filmmaking is. Even when he's tackling more challenging topics, he presents characters who aren't as detestable as they could be under a more black-and-white-minded director. His recent films, eschewing visual splendor for realistic depictions of people have the capability of speaking frankly with the audience and challenging them to think just beyond the periphery of the film.

Promised Land apparoches a topic that only recently began claiming national attentions. Its far-reaching consequences are important to discuss at such a critical juncture. Had we a film like Promised Land during the rise of oil and gasoline production, perhaps we wouldn't be as feverishly devoted to the vanishing, expensive and environmentally devastating energy source. Fracking has the potential to ruin lives and the environment. Only by showcasing the dangers can society push for stricter controls and a saner approaches to the technology.

This film highlights how corporate greed too frequently and capably overrides the public's health and safety. Simply by throwing money at people who are too poor to think beyond the needs of the present, corporations are able to push for change without concern for the people it impacts. If they can squeeze out one more nickel and make themselves abundantly rich in the process, who do they care if they hurt.

The only people who have shown unflagging interest in the film are anti-fracturing advocates. Corporations have done what they can to belittle and repress the accessibiity of the film and sadly it has worked. Promised Land deserves an audience, if for no other reason than to protect our environment and our future. That it's a well constructed and humanist film in addition is secondary.
Review Written
March 25, 2013

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