Verdict: 4 / 5
Promised Land is a story written by its stars – Matt Damon and John Krasinksi. The modern tale revolves around two sales agents (Damon and McDormand) who enter a small town to acquire drilling rights which will provide much-needed financial relief for the locals. However, the controversial process, known as fracking, quickly becomes a hot topic in the town and the job of getting the deal signed off turns out to be much harder than expected when a local teacher objects to the process and is joined by an outsider (Krasinksi) who rallies up much of the town against them. Krasinki’s character challenges Damon’s on both a professional and personal level which makes the film all the more engaging.
Normally I hate ‘agenda’ films. I hate when I feel like the only reason a film was made was to promote a message. It’s something I can smell a mile away and want to immediately turn off. Promised Land is in fact one of those films but somehow works hard enough with its characters and story to disguise as much of it as they can. It’s a testament to the performances of everyone that I genuinely root for all the characters and their individual struggles both personally and professionally, and that I’m, for some reason, quite happy to go along with listening to the message of the film.
Gus van Sant is a simple storyteller. He is excellent at simply putting images and actors on-screen and he avoids fanciness. This is not as simple and beautiful as say Gerry or Elephant where the majority of the story telling is purely through images and music, but there is an ease in which van Sant tells his story here, without obscure angles or uses of sound. He simply lets the honest performances get captured on film and placed in front of us which is quite refreshing in this day and age where everyone wants to use the medium to tell the story, completely neglecting the honest raw emotion from the actors.
I was genuinely blindsided by a third act revelation that really made the movie work for me. Before it came along I would have said this was ‘just a nice, well-intentioned film’, but after that I was far more emotionally engaged, even if it was late in the game. Following ‘that moment’ (I don’t want to spoil anything) the final 15 minutes are quite predictable yet necessary, and the movie rams home its core message of ‘anti fracking’.
I don’t know where you stand on the topic of fracking – in all honesty it’s not a topic that I’ve rushed to face or that I had much interest in, but either way I think you’d find a good argument against the process here, as well as a good look into the moral grey area faced by many people who are also trying to make their way in this world. I recommend you watch for yourself and decide.