Movie Review: Promised Land

A movie review of 'Promised Land' from Mark Glass, a Clayton resident and member of the St. Louis Film Critics Association.

Promised Land *** (R) Matt Damon is a movie star. John Krasinski is a TV star with a rising movie career. Fracking to tap into our vast reserves of natural gas is a controversial subject, with economic and security pluses balanced against risks to the environment. Both sides of the coin have potential long-term, significant effects on our country - especially for the communities that allow those resources to be developed.

So when guys with their industry profile write a topical screenplay, there’s no problem in getting a Gus Van Sant to direct, a studio to back it, and principal roles for themselves. It gets rolled out on both coasts in time for Oscar consideration. All this for a rather tepid drama that casts some light on the pros and cons, but fails to deliver a satisfying exploration or resolution of its hot-button subject.

Damon and Frances McDormand work as an advance team for a major gas company. Their job is to roll into small towns to buy up the drilling rights. Their pitch is that the region’s small farms are failing - as is true throughout most of the country - and this is the locals’ only path to not just prosperity, but perhaps even hanging onto their family’s land for another generation. Matt is a true believer; he grew up in rural Iowa, and saw his town wither when the local Caterpillar Plant closed. Krasinski arrives as the front man for an environmental group, warning the townsfolk  that Damon may be selling snake oil. Hal Holbrook plays a retired science teacher who also encourages resistance for the long-term good of the community.

Ultimately the story is focused on the selling and the sellers, rather than the product. Like the landowners, we’re exposed more to tactics and strategies than data. The authors put a couple of twists into the proceedings aimed more at generating cinematic interest than political points. The net effect is closer to a low-key Glengarry Glen Ross than An Inconvenient Truth. (1/4/13)

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