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Ohio Utica Shale

'Promised Land' is entertaining movie out to sway viewers

By Bob Downing Published: January 5, 2013

A review of Promised Land:

Everyone seems to think that Matt Damon’s new film, Promised Land, is about fracking.

It is and it isn’t.

The film, directed by Gus Van Sant (Milk and Good Will Hunting), is about what happens before drillers use hydraulic fracturing or fracking for natural gas.  That is the controversial method of using water, sand and chemicals to free up natural gas in underground rock and the subject of continued national debate.

The story is centered on the natural gas company landmen who arrive to sign landowners up for leases before the drilling can begin.

Promised Land is an engaging and entertaining movie that is carried largely by a winning cast: Damon, John Krasinki, Frances McDormand and an aged Hal Holbrook.  

The screenplay by Damon and Krasinski from a story by Dave Eggers provides a first-rate twist.

Those are the real strengths of the movie.

It is also clearly a not-so-subtle message movie. It is out to sway people. But the messages are soft and plain. The lecturing is sparse. It is not overbearing.

Promised Land is, at its heart, a tale of morality, dreams, greed, manipulation, sales jobs, conscience, disappearing farms and community, the power of money, community divisions and environmental concerns.

It is about a battle for hearts and minds in the communities as energy companies battle environmentalists over how great a risk fracking may be.

But the film is not entirely accurate.

It gives the image that a small town can block drilling (not the case) and implies that whole towns will turn their back on drilling and drilling dollars (an unlikely scenario). It may overstate the potential risk from drilling to water and air.

Promised Land is designed largely to entertain, not really to inform. But the film, shot in western Pennsylvania, leaves little doubt where its sympathies lie.

Steve Butler (Damon) plays a landman sent to a rural Pennsylvania town by a giant energy corporation to convince struggling local farmers to sign away their mineral rights and to win support from local politicians. He is savvy and skilled at what he does

He wears the right clothes, touts his Iowa farm roots and sees himself providing hope to the locals.

He is joined by co-worker Sue Thomason (McDormand).

A few residents of McKinley, Pa., the fictional town, embrace the land deals but many are wary.

Krasinksi plays Dustin Noble, an environmentalist who ostensibly comes to wage a grass-roots campaign against the project.  That effort is aided by Holbrook’s character, the town’s wise old and retired scientist.

Water, by design, not accident, creeps into many scenes to remind viewers of the threat the filmmakers  see from fracking.

Damon is low key and earnest as his character becomes increasingly conflicted. Krasinski is sly and smart in his role. McDormand is solid but underused. Holbrook has many of the best scenes.

The movie suffers from a lackluster, low-drama ending. It plods along with only two emotional scenes: one with Holbrook and one with Damon. Its plainness is obviously by design. The naturalistic acting largely carries the film

Promised Land is an enjoyable and timely Hollywood film and little more. It won’t change peoples’ minds about fracking. It is too shallow to do that.

 I give it a 6 on a 1-to-10 scale for its entertainment value.

 

 

 

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