out of Five
Running time: 106
The latest film from Gus Van Sant is a thought-provoking and emotionally engaging smalltown drama with a strong script and a terrific central performance from co-writer Matt Damon.
What's it all about?
Directed by Gus Van Sant and co-written by co-stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski, Promised Land is set in present-day America and stars Damon as Steve Butler, a salesman for a natural gas company who's offered a big promotion if he can persuade the residents of a Pennsylvania farming town to sign leases allowing the company to drill for natural gas (a procedure known as fracking). However, when he and his colleague Sue (Frances McDormand) arrive in town, the pair find themselves up against significant local opposition, headed by retired scientist Frank (Hal Holbrook) and stirred up further by charming environmentalist Dustin (John Krasinski).
The performances are excellent: Matt Damon is terrific as Steve, a likeable, kind-hearted man who strongly believes he is doing the right thing, largely because he knows the smalltown farming community needs the cash influx from the gas company to survive. Krasinski is equally good as the charming Dustin and there's strong support from Rosemary DeWitt (as a local woman who is romantically drawn to both men) and peerless old-timer Hal Holbrook, while Frances McDormand is on splendid spiky form as Sue, who has a minor romance of her own with gun store owner Rob (Titus Welliver).
Krasinski and Damon are clearly passionate about the fracking issue but their script is surprisingly balanced, largely because we're forced to see the issue through the eyes of a character whose job would normally make him the enemy. In other words, the thought-provoking film requires you to carefully consider both sides of the argument, even if you can't help feeling the film maybe needed to be a little angrier in places (in particular, anyone who's seen fracking documentary Gasland will feel that fracking gets off pretty lightly).
Van Sant's direction is assured throughout, allowing the film to unfold at a leisurely pace that allows us to get to know the characters and consider the issues, with the shadow of the recession looming heavily in the background (Promised Land is essentially part of an emerging subgenre of recession movies). It's also beautifully shot, with Linus Sandgren's cinematography making strong use of some authentic landscapes and locations.
Promised Land is a well made, emotionally engaging drama that steers refreshingly clear of the expected clichés and features terrific performances from a superb cast. Well worth seeking out.