Susan Granger’s review of “Promised Land” (Focus Features)
Corruption is pervasive, particularly when it comes to energy concerns. In that vein, Gus Van Sant has fashioned a polemic about the dangers of a hydraulic drilling practice called fracking.
Farm boy-turned-corporate salesman Steve Butler (Matt Damon) has been dispatched by Global to the rural Pennsylvania town of McKinley with his partner, Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand), to acquire natural gas drilling rights. Hard hit by the economic decline of recent years, McKinley’s citizens are suffering hard times. So Steve’s job shouldn’t be too difficult, since Global is offering considerable profit to each individual farmer for the right to blast into their soil with pressurized chemicals to release natural gas. Some accept with alarming alacrity; others prove more recalcitrant.
Primary opposition comes from Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook), a high-school science teacher who publicly challenges Steve’s corporate agenda and calls for the townspeople to vote on the company’s proposition, rather than just accept Global as their economic salvation. Adding to Steve’s consternation is the arrival of Dustin Noble (John Krasinski), a slick environmental agitator who launches an anti-Global campaign, pointing out that fracking not only contributes to air/water pollution but also proves deadly to livestock. Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt), an attractive schoolmarm, is caught in the romantic rivalry between Steve and Dustin.
Even before its release, there have been protests by energy industry representatives, and it should be noted that part of the film’s funding came from Image Nation Abu Dhabi, implying, perhaps, that the United Arab Emirates, the world’s third largest oil exporter, may have a vested interest in suppressing U.S. natural gas production.
Working as a screenwriter, Matt Damon has collaborated previously with director Gus Van Sant on “Good Will Hunting” and “Gerry” – and they’ve now added John Krasinski to this crisis-of-conscience dilemma as co-writer/co-producer. The professional acting ensemble – including Scoot McNairy, Lucas Black, Titus Welliver and Tim Guinee – is first-rate, augmented by real-life residents of Avonsmore, Pennsylvania.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Promised Land” is a sensitive, sympathetic 6, appealing particularly to environmental activists.