Director: Gus Van Sant
Script: Matt Damon, John Krasinski Novel: Dave Eggers
Cast: Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand, Rosemarie de Witt
106min US Drama
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Gus Van Sant’s latest outing Promised Land highlights the continuing narrative on community survival and corporate greed in the 21st century with a thoughtful and appealing drama centred on the controversial process of ‘fracking’ or extracting natural gas from the ground.
It has Matt Damon, who also co-wrote the script, as Steve Butler who is an energy executive for Global, a company that’s attempting to obtain drilling rights in the small American town of McKinley. In the opening scenes, his game-plan is to tempt the ageing and cash-poor inhabitants with money-spinning possibilities to finance the rest of their lives, naturally playing down potential environmental issues. They can do this, he claims, by investing in their town’s natural resources in the shape of the natural gas that is locked under their land. All bristling with energy, he arrives in McKinley with his boss Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand), a world-weary but philosophical divorcee and mother.
Served by a sharp script, Frances McDormand and Damon make a witty and watchable duo as they work door to door to win over the inhabitants. Damon is utterly convincing as a salesman who appears genuinely to believe his soft-sell patter. Later, there’s an appealing vulnerability to his performance as he kicks back with Rosemarie de Witt’s sharp-edged but sparky schoolteacher, over drinks in the local bar, and is instantly drawn to her. McDormand’s Sue Thomason is more pragmatic about her job, she’s a character who embodies the likeable, middle-aged single woman, bringing up a child alone and simply concerned in getting the money in. But when they come up against John Krasinski’s glib environmental specialist, Dustin Noble, who’s championing the negatives of fracking, their campaign suffers a set-back with unexpected consequences for all concerned.
While many may focus on the political and environmental side of the story, what most of all appealed to me about this drama is the well-formed character arcs and strong performances of the leads: Krasinski, Damon, De Witt and McDormand all act their socks off and it’s the social story that holds the attention throughout. Matt Damon has really thought about these ‘guys’ and they feel completely believable. They’re people that you may know or even be, yourself. Where the piece falls down is in the final stages where the narrative becomes simplistic and takes the easy way out, presenting us with a ‘cheesy’ Hollywood ending that detracts from the convincing effort it made to engage us earlier on in the story and, in so doing, settles for the predicable rather than the surprising. That said, this is entertaining drama for sophisticated audiences who appreciate world class acting and contemporary themes. If you enjoyed Syriana, or Michael Clayton then Promised Land is a film for you. MT.
PROMISED LAND GOES ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 19TH APRIL 2013