Steve (Matt Damon) and Sue (Frances McDormand) travel to a small town to convince the residents to allow a large corporation to frack for natural gas on their land. It is not long before horror stories of fracking around the country come to light, and Dustin (John Krasinski) comes to town to defend the purity of the land.
Based on a story by Dave ‘Away We Go’ Eggers, the script for Promised Land was written by Matt Damon and John Krasinski, and I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for their writing sessions, but I digress. The story is one of mystery and betrayal, but instead of seeing a faceless corporation battling it out in a courtroom, the audience is down on the ground with the inhabitants of the small town, as they try to figure out what is best for their town.
Matt Damon and John Krasinski’s characters are like chalk and cheese in one respect, but similar in another. Steve comes off as a warm and friendly man, who comes from a small town and knows how to relate to people. His jokes start off as warm and friendly, and his fledgling relationship with Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt) is rather sweet. However, as time goes on, and Dustin is introduced into the mix, Steve’s friendliness begins to ring hollow, and Dustin is suddenly the man telling the truth. Krasinski is confident and ultimately manipulative, but he plays the part of a simple man from a small town very well.
Hal Holbrook is one of the first lines of defence for the town, as Frank Yates, Rosemarie DeWitt plays the part of the small town girl, tired of the big city, and Frances McDormand is as quick witted and sharp as ever, as Steve’s business partner.
Although the film is essentially about fracking, it turns into a battle of wits between Steve and Dustin, and the issue itself fades into the background. This is a shame as fracking is an issue facing communities all around the world, but the film does push the idea of corrupt corporations to the fore, so essentially Promised Land turns into a film about doing your research.
Amazingly, the film is directed by Gus Van Sant, but is perhaps the most toned down and gentle of his films to date. Van Sant seems to capture the warmth of small town America on screen, and the cinematography certainly reinforces the idea that this beautiful rural town is one that should be cherished. The film may have benefited from a stronger and closer look at the dangers of fracking, but Dustin’s explanation of the process to school kids is surprisingly simply and terrifying.
Promised Land is an engaging film about the battle between people and corporations, although the issue being fought about could be anything, since it fades so far into the background. Krasinski and Damon’s script is wonderful, as are their performances, the film looks beautiful, and Van Sant’s restrained direction is just right. As is Danny Elfman’s oddly peaceful score.