Magazine article Variety

Promised Land

Magazine article Variety

Promised Land

Article excerpt

FILM

Promised Land

A quietly absorbing if finally Honiewhat dubious drama about an unlikely anticorporate crusader, "Promised Land" uses a familiar story arc to decry corruption in the energy industry, specifically the controversial natural-gas drilling technique known as 'Tracking." Yet the subtler, more resonant warning sounded by Gus Van Sant's latest picture lies in its mournful portrait of an economically depressed farming community, evoking an imperiled way of American life in microcosm. Although too dramatically underpowered to achieve more than modest commercial impact, this well-acted, minor-key passion project for star-producer-scribe Matt Damon could parlay heated op-ed coverage into a respectable arthouse showing.

Set to open Dec. 28 for a weeklong awards-qualifying run before it opens wider in January, the Focus Features release has already come under attack by representatives of the energy corporations it critiques. Some of the film's early detractors (few of whom are likely to have seen it yet) have pointed out that, it was partly funded by Imagenation Abu Dhabi, the implication being that the United Arab Emirates, the world's third largest oil exporter and a recent backer of several Hollywood pics, may have a vested interest in suppressing U.S. gas production.

The nature of Damon's personal investment in the project is less mysterious, given his own extensive environmental advocacy. Damon previously co-scripted Van Sant's "Good Will Hunting" and "Gerry," and "Promised Land" reps an intriguing extended collaboration between the actor and .lohn Krasinski, who also co-wrote, co-starred and co-produced. Together they have crafted a sturdy, conventional draina of conscience that acknowledges the current era ofecon« c uncertainty, suggesting a non-thriller version of "Michael Clayton," or perhaps "Erin Brockovich" as told from a sympathetic villain's perspective. Either way, for a movie so soberly attuned to environmental ethics and scientifie minutiae, it's less dry than one would expect.

Thirty-eight-year-old Steve Butler (Damon) is a top salesman for Global, a $9 billion fracking company that sends him to small towns nationwide to buy land from locals for the purposes of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking - a drilling process in which the soil is blasted \\ nli pressurized chemicals to release natural gas. As he and his associate Sue (Frances McDormand, dependably snappy) go door-todoor, obtaining signatures in exchange for assurances of economic salvation, Steve harbors conflicted feelings about a job he's clearly good at. Himself a farm boy turned big-city professional, he retains an honest affection for the blue-collar work ethic and humble, salt-of-theearth spirit he encounters, and he's painfully aware that he's effectively gutting entire communities under the pretext of revitalizing them.

Steve's moral reservations catch up with him on a job in Pennsylvania farm country, where a whip-smart high-school science teacher (a fine Hal Holbrook) successfully challenges Global's agenda and calls for the town to vote on the company's proposition rather than blithely accept it. An even peskier obstacle arrives in the form of Dustin Noble (Krasinski), a dogged activist who launches an anti-Global campaign, teaching locals that fracking is not only laying waste to a proud agricultural tradition, but also contributing to air/water pollution and killing livestock (problems examined at length in Josh Fox's 2010 docu "GasLand"). …

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