The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Promised Land | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Promised Land

An energy rep attempts to convince the residents of a small town to sell the rights to gas extraction on their land.

Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Matt Damon, Hal Holbrook, Frances McDormand, John Krasinski

Steve (Damon) is a rep for Global Crosspower Solutions, an energy company who specialize in extracting natural gas through the controversial practice of "fracking". Hailing from a small rural town in Iowa has given him an edge in winning over the residents of such communities. For this reason, he is dispatched to a farming town in rural Pennsylvania with the task of buying the right to frack on the locals' land. There he comes up against local teacher Frank (Holbrook), who raises concerns over the methods used by Global. When a member of an activist group arrives in town and begins to turn the residents against Global, it seems Steve is facing his toughest battle yet.
If you miss the credits of 'Promised Land', you may think it's the latest work of Cameron Crowe or Jason Reitman. Both those directors seem to be building their careers around the 'Local Hero' idea of soulless corporate men finding themselves with the help of simple everyday folk. The credits reveal this instead to be the work of Gus Van Sant but they also contain a disturbing revelation; the funding for the film came courtesy of Abu Dhabi. This may be a tirade against natural gas drilling but let's not kid ourselves, it's equally a propaganda piece for the oil industry. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" would seem to be Van Sant's justification but it leaves a nasty, oily, taste in the mouth.
It's testament to Damon's affability that, despite the dubious nature of his character, we find ourselves rooting for him to succeed. This is the film's major problem though as this clearly isn't the intention of the film-makers. The script, penned by actors Damon and Krasinski, is riddled with issues. There's a romantic subplot that comes across as far more superficial than you're meant to believe. The seeds of numerous other subplots involving the small-town folks are sown but never come to fruition. Worst of all is a final act plot twist that comes across as ludicrous. There's always something annoying about millionaire Hollywood types telling us commoners that some things are more important than money and that's exactly what you get here.
In spite of all these grievances, I have to confess I enjoyed 'Promised Land'. Even though it wasn't Damon's intention, I found myself charmed by his character.