Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Released on: January 4th, 2013
Grade: 2.5 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Justin Tucker
Director Gus Van Sant reunites with Matt Damon for a third time with the drama Promised Land. This time, Damon stars as Steve Butler, a hotshot salesman for a large energy company. He’s charming, cunning and closes the big deals — perhaps the best at what he does. He is sent to the rural farming town of McKinley with his partner Sue (Frances McDormand) to buy drilling rights for natural gas. The pair comes with promises of a better future for the townsfolk and their children. More jobs and improved education will come with just the flick of a pen and the turn of a drill.
The pair is met with a little resistance. One concerned citizen is Frank (Hal Holbrook), a science teacher who is worried about the environmental effects of fracking, the supposedly hazardous process used by the energy company to extract the natural gas. The arrival of environmental activist Dustin (John Krasinski) in McKinley further complicates Steve and Sue’s mission, causing just as big of a stir around town as they are. Fracking destroyed Dustin’s farm, and he warns the town may suffer the same fate. All this causes Steve do so some predictable soul searching.
Promised Land was written by Damon and Krasinski, and adapted from a Dave Eggers story. The script has sharp, witty dialogue, and the supporting cast is a likeable bunch, especially McDormand, Holbrook and the underrated Lucas Black. It is also sanctimonious Hollywood enviro-preaching at its most homiletic. With each passing moment of the film’s 106 minute running time, the filmmakers whack you over the head with it more and more. If the film would have worked, I could have looked past the heavy-handedness. What makes the film irredeemable, however, is an asinine plot twist that completely wastes every decent thing going for it and jolts the film into the realm of the ridiculous.
Van Sant is one of the best directors in the world though he sometimes has lapses in judgment. Promised Land is one such lapse. He and Damon want to recapture the same magic that made Good Will Hunting a success and create a Capra-esque, populist film for the environmental age, but their efforts backfire. Dialogue, performances... nothing can forgive such a shaking-my-head third act. I’ve heard Dave Eggers is a great writer, and I hope to one day read something by him, but if his other stories are just as ridiculous as this one, I may read another Stephen King or Louis L’Amour book before I crack open A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.