Movie Review: Promised Land (2012)

Posted: November 3, 2013 in Drama
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Promised Land

Steve Butler (Matt Damon) is an employee for Global, a nine billion natural gas company.  The company wants to buy up land in rural Pennsylvania to extract natural gas from the shale below, in a process called hydraulic fracturing or fracking.  Steve specializes in lowballing prices for this land. Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) is Steve’s partner in this corporate endeavor, and Steve thinks it will be easy because he is from Iowa, and he understands which buttons to push with these rural folk.  Steve is not counting on opposition from Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook) a science teacher, who is a retired engineer from Boeing.  Frank asks some impolite questions during a town hall meeting and a flustered Steve agrees to a vote on the fracking proposal.

In order to ingratiate himself to the townspeople, and to make his sales pitch easier, Steve and Sue go to a bar.  Steve meets an attractive teacher, named Alice, (Rosemary Dewitt) ends up buying drink for the entire bar, and goes home with Alice.  There is no environmental presence in the town, so the sales pitch should be easy.  Or so Steve thinks, suddenly , an environmentalist named Dustin Noble (John Krasinski) shows up in town, and starts spreading posters around town showing dead cows on a farm after fracking has taken place there.  Steve and Sue are blindsided by this grassroots operation, and are losing the public opinion battle for hearts and minds.  Just before the vote on fracking is to take place, Steve notices something strange about the posters Dustin is handing out, will this anomaly change the dynamics of the election?

Promised Land  is a very bland movie.  It sounds familiar themes of the evil, soulless greedy corporation, taking advantage of small town Americans.  There is a twist at the end of the film, but it’s not enough to redeem the film.  Fracking seems to be the issue du jour lately, with the documentary Gasland, and now Promised Land.  I didn’t like either.  Promised Land didn’t have enough conflict, the romance was non-existent, and the characters, except for Frank Yates, were not interesting.  Gasland had too much of one point of view, and a flashy gimmick, but ultimately left me unconvinced.

The acting was ok, it was nice to see Matt Damon play against type, and try to humanize the ‘evil’ corporate guy, but there’s not enough conflict for his character, and so Damon’s character is propelled by events and is reactionary.  Krasiniski plays the same character he does in The Office, smartest guy in the room, one step ahead of Damon, cheery, upbeat.  There’s not enough to differentiate this character from the one he played on tv.  Hal Holbrook plays the most interesting character, but his character recedes and is missing from large parts of this movie. Frances McDormand is absolutely wasted in this movie, she is given nothing at all to do, except talk to Damon on the long car trips in town.  Krasinski and Damon wrote this script, so I expected more intelligent ideas and lively debate from this film, but this film is dull, dull, dull.

Promised Land. Not so promising.

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