At the Movies: Promised Land

In 2010 writer/director Josh Fox made “Gasland,” a documentary about a form of natural gas drilling known as “fracking.” Two years later director Gus Van Sant, working from a screenplay by Matt Damon and John Krasinski, made “Promised Land,” a drama about two men working opposite sides of the fracking issue.

If you only see one movie about fracking, make it “Gasland.” “Gasland” is compelling, informative and real; “Promised Land” has a decent cast but is mired in a predictable and flat story.

promisedlandBased on a story by Dave Eggers, “Promised Land” stars Damon as Steve Butler, a gas company salesman with the golden touch. He’s on his way up the corporate ladder but first he needs to close a deal in a poor rural town. He arrives in town with his partner Sue (Frances McDormand) and the duo go door-to-door to buy drilling rights.

Things are going well until Steve attends a town meeting where he’s questioned by the high school science teacher (Hal Holbrook). Suddenly the easy sell turns into more of a challenge.

Further complicating matters is the arrival of Dustin Noble (Krasinski), an environmentalist determined to stop the gas company from moving in. Dustin claims that fracking killed all the cattle and ruined his family’s farm.

“Promised Land” isn’t a bad film but it gets by primarily on the strength of its cast. Damon is charming as usual but his journey from slick corporate shill to man with a conscience is predictable to the extreme. There’s even a love story dropped in courtesy of a local school teacher (Rosemarie DeWitt).

There’s a serious discussion to be had on the subject of hydraulic fracturing, but “Promised Land” is too lightweight to make it. There are some interesting character bits but the talented cast needs a better story to work with.


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