What It's About
An earnest movie with a topical message, "Promised Land" celebrates small-town communities that are the backbone of America, and their struggles in today's poor economy. How people react to a "too good to be true" offer and the motives behind it are the conflict put forth by screenwriters and stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski, from a story by Dave Eggers.
Deal-closers for a natural gas company try to convince farmers in a struggling rural community that if they sign over property rights for drilling, they will strike it rich. The corporate representatives Steve and Sue (Damon, Frances McDormand) are confronted by a science teacher (Hal Holbrook), who did his homework, a few hostile hometowners, and an energetic environmental activist Dustin (Krasinski), so this transaction isn't the easy mark their $9-billion company predicted.
Matt Damon is effortless in conveying a fairly decent guy who doesn't let sentiment interfere with his work and can't help but show disdain for bleeding-heart liberals with green agendas. As his rival, John Krasinski matches Damon in verve as a determined, likable fellow fighting the good fight.
Frances McDormand finds the nuances in her hard-edged character Sue, and those shadings help the film considerably. Hal Holbrook's presence as a brilliant mind living peacefully in the country greatly enhances the film, as well, while Rosemarie deWitt's charming as the appealing teacher both Steve and Dustin are drawn to during their stays.
Director Gus Van Sant sincerely captured the Americana aspect of this story, lingering on the everyday qualities of a farming community, without being condescending. It could easily have turned into a city-slickers-swoop-down-on-small-town U.S.A. to make a movie, but it didn't. Filmmakers, for the most part, show restraint yet get their points across.
You recognize the situation, the people, how life unfolds in rural towns, and the look of the film is terrific.
What Doesn't Work
Fracking is a hot issue these days, so your viewpoint will likely color your opinion of the film. You can't not have a point of view when you watch this, and it does get preachy in the film's finale.
But as a nice, if predictable, foray into modern-day real America, "Promised Land" is absorbing and well-crafted cinema.
3 stars out of 4
Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand, Rosemarie deWitt, Hal Holbrook
Rated: R for language