Sunday, July 28, 2013

Promised Land

Promised Land (2012)
Drama, 106 minutes
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Starring Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, Hal Holbrook, Rosemarie DeWitt and John Krasinski

There are a number of actors that I trust to give a good performance in almost any movie, and Matt Damon belongs on that list. He's probably best known for playing Jason Bourne, and some of my friends are disappointed that he didn't want to play similar roles for the rest of his life. I thought he was great as Bourne, but my favorite performances came in The Departed, Good Will Hunting, and Rounders. He elevated flawed movies like The Adjustment Bureau, Hereafter, and We Bought a Zoo, and gave excellent performances in several titles that I haven't mentioned.

Why do I like Damon?

I like that he's versatile, but most of all, I admire his understated acting style. He doesn't try to take over a movie, and that makes his performances all the more realistic. If Damon hadn't been cast in Promised Land, I doubt that I would have ever seen it. It's good to see him team up again with Gus Van Sant, who directed him in Good Will Hunting.

Promised Land is about the way in which a natural gas company, Global, attempts to convince a small farming community to sell land and allow it to be exploited for its natural resources. The people are poor and seem like easy targets. Steve Butler (Damon) and Sue Thomason (McDormand) are employed by Global to deliver their sales pitch. Butler grew up in a similar community and carries a lot of credibility as he visits the local farmers. He truly believes that it is in the best interests of the locals to accept Global's offer.

Butler encounters local opposition in the form of Frank Yates, who is played convincingly by Hal Holbrook. Yates is a science teacher and he's been making use of Google to uncover the truth about natural gas. Apparently, there are plenty of risks involved, and not all towns prosper in the way that Butler has implied. Additional problems arise for Butler when environmentalist Dustin Noble (Krasinski) shows up with a tale of how natural gas exploitation ruined his community.

There are a couple of unpredictable twists later in the story, but it would be wrong of me to reveal them here.

It's rare to see a drama of this nature in modern cinema. There are no explosions or action sequences, and although there is a small romantic element, it's not the driving force in the story. So who is this movie for? Well, it would certainly hold your interest if you were a struggling farmer with the option of selling your land. However, I don't fall into that category, and I was engrossed by the story throughout.

The movie tackles real issues and raises questions about who is good and who is evil. It provides moral dilemmas for its characters, and we see how they choose to resolve them. Ultimately, it explores deeper themes about our function in life, and whether we are successes, failures, or creatures capable of questioning our established roles. It also looks at how the decisions of big companies can impact the lives of other people.

I wouldn't say that Promised Land is essential viewing, but it will work for fans of Matt Damon, and perhaps for those who like to see stories that don't follow the usual Hollywood pattern. I'm glad that it's in my collection.

Overall score 3.75/5 

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