Promised Land Movie Review
PROMISED LAND was written by Matt Damon and John Krasinski, who met when Damon starred with Krasinski’s wife, Emily Blunt, in THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU. The film is more famous for being Matt Damon’s planned directorial debut and then ended up being another reteaming of Damon and Gus Van Sant after Damon dropped his directorial duties when his schedule got too busy. Interesting enough, Matt Damon has only written three films (GOOD WILL HUNTING, GERRY and PROMISED LAND), all of which were directed by Van Sant. Their third collaboration falls somewhere between Hunting and GERRY, not quite reaching the emotional pull of the former, but providing deeper characters than the latter.
PROMISED LAND focuses on Steve (Matt Damon), a salesman of sorts for a natural gas company whose job it is to convince landowners around the country to sell the rights to their land so his company can come in and drill for oil (called fracking). Steve is primed for a big promotion, but before he moves up, he has to finish convincing the residents of a small Pennsylvania town to sell the rights to their land. But things start to go awry when a cranky old landowner stands up at a town meeting to convince the residents to vote on the issue rather than just allowing the fracking. This makes Steve’s bosses nervous and also attracts the attention of an environmentalist, Dustin (John Krasinski), who comes in and tries to get the residents to vote against the fracking.
There are a lot of things to like about PROMISED LAND. We follow some great, interesting characters, including Steve and Dustin, but also Steve’s partner Sue (Frances McDormand) and his love interest, Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt). The characters are grounded and relatable, making it enjoyable for the audience to follow them and understand their point of views. PROMISED LAND also tackles a very sensitive subject, but handles it in a surprisingly unbiased fashion. Fracking is a sensitive subject for anyone that follows environmental issues, but the audience is beaten over the head with negative fracking propaganda. It also helped that we see each side of the argument pretty clearly since every character represents a point of view. Steve is very pro-fracking, Dusting is very anti-fracking, Sue considers it just a job that helps her provide for her family and the townsfolk need the money. In fact, we see all sides so evenly that you may go into PROMISED LAND with one point of view and come out understanding the other side of the argument more clearly.
Unfortunately, as much as I liked certain aspects of the film, it’s problems can be summed up with the word “almost”. Steve is a likeable character, thanks in large part to Matt Damon, but his arc is a little flat. It’s unclear whether his pro-fracking stand is because he truly believes fracking is okay or because he likes the money he gets from his job. That’s an important distinction at the end because his transformation was unconvincing. We needed to really understand Steve’s motivations so we could transform with him. They also dropped the ball with John Krasinski’s character by not giving him more screen time with Damon. When they were together, their banter and chemistry with each other was a highlight in the film. Unfortunately, they on screen together enough and the film suffered for it.
PROMISED LAND is a “nice” film in that it delivers a good story, great message and interesting characters without ever beating you over the head with any specific point of view. But it does lack in character development and never quite reaches its potential. That said, PROMISED LAND is an enjoyable film and you should leave the film thinking about the issue of fracking and its impact on society.