Monday, 22 April 2013

Film Review: Promised Land (2012)

Director: Gus Van Sant
Writers: John Krasinski, Matt Damon (screenplay) and Dave Eggers (story)
Stars: Matt Damon, Hal Holbrook, Frances McDormand and John Krasinski

Promised Land is a classic morality tale of greed verses the greater good, focusing on the current political climate and controversy of drilling for natural gas. As a film it is both entertaining and thought provoking, which we can assume is the balance the film makers were attempting to strike.

Set in small town mid-America, the film tells the story of Steven Butler (Matt Damon) and his colleague Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) who, representing a $9 billion fracking company, arrive from ‘the big city’ to convince the local townsfolk to sign over their land to be drilled on in return for financial gain. The question is: at what cost? This question is embodied when environmental campaigner Dustin Noble (John Krasinski) arrives in the town to sway the population to vote against the drilling.

This may not sound like an interesting subject but what makes Promised Land a watchable and engaging experience is the talent involved. The three leads all deliver very ‘human’ performances, in that we believe they do this for a living; they have careers, they’ve done this before, they know the drill (no pun intended), and they know how to manipulate the poorer parts of America. Butler often uses “nine billion dollars” as the reason why his company will win any legal battle they may face, and he describes the rewards as “Fuck You money” meaning you the townsfolk can say exactly that phrase to their mortgage and children’s college education payments when the time comes. Money is the answer to Butler because there is nothing else to offer.

Moreover, director Gus Van Sant certainly knows how to direct character-centric dramas and may be the most reliant director working today to, at the very least, portray people as people, not stock characters or clich├ęs. Look at his work in Milk, Good Will Hunting, or My Own Private Idaho for further evidence. This is not on par with those films, but in a lesser director’s hands Promised Land could have been purely liberal soapboxing from the first minute.

Having said that, the film is not without its problems. Most of these derive from the forced relationship the script calls for between Butler and a local woman, and then her relationship with Noble. Nothing can feel as manufactured in a movie’s script as romance, and Promised Land really didn’t need the romance injected here, which also serves to produce a final few minutes which didn’t ring true to what we’ve seen from Butler. He might do what he does here over the course of a few months, but over 24 hours just seemed forced and unrealistic.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: Aside from that quibble, Promised Land is yet again another film which should be seen by all with Matt Damon retaining his status as Mr Dependable. However, like the small towns in the film, money talks and this film will be sadly overlooked by the masses.

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