Promised Land - DVD Review

'the director for a large part of the movie manages to impressively avoid turning matters into propaganda for either side of the issue'

Considering Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land is the perhaps inevitable movie concerned with hydraulic fracturing - more commonly known as “fracking” and regularly in and out of the news as the latest environmental hot potato over the last few years - the director for a large part of the movie manages to impressively avoid turning matters into propaganda for either side of the issue.

Van Sant instead makes the key figures for and against fracking in the film pleasingly multi-layered. Matt Damon’s Steve Butler, sent to rural Pennsylvania by his employer Global Crosspower Solutions to sell the process to the financially unstable farming community, is shown to be a formidable business mind both as a charming salesman and a hardball negotiator. But he’s also impossible not to root for throughout the story, clearly a man of morals who believes in the job he does due to his own agricultural background and the financial hardships he’s seen members of his own family suffer.

Alongside Damon, Frances McDormand brings a second, refreshing viewpoint on Big Business employees as Steve’s co-worker Sue Thomason, with the veteran actress sharing infectious chemistry with Damon and delivering some of the film’s most endearing moments through their shared scenes. It’s a shame Sue’s mooted relationship with local store owner Rob (Titus Welliver) is never allowed to develop beyond the initial stages, being as it is a sweet distraction when allowed to surface. Steve’s own romantic subplot with local teacher Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt) suffers a similar fate, leaving Promised Land feeling disappointingly underdeveloped in terms of secondary storylines.

As the opposite to Damon’s Global exec, eco activist Dustin Noble (an excellent John Krasinski) may have the wellbeing of the farming community and the planet in mind, but that doesn’t stop him from being a smarmy and self-righteous presence whenever he’s on screen. It’s a bold choice by Van Sant as well as screenwriters Damon and Krasinski. A lesser film would make things much more boring, keeping Damon and Krasinski’s characters as tired caricatures; the script here coupled with Van Sant’s direction makes things much less clear, and much more interesting.

That is, until the final act. Following a twist that initially gives the story that much more appeal, it’s as if the writers couldn’t find any other way to end things so just defaulted on the most obvious, least interesting conclusion. All of a sudden, Promised Land descends into swathes of painful schmaltz it’s largely managed to avoid for the majority of its running time. Van Sant can’t help but give in to the romantic allure of simple all-American country life, delivering a conclusion I had predicted over an hour before the end, but had then been convinced during the intervening time would hopefully not come to pass. It’s a disappointing and overly simplistic anticlimax to a film which, aside from its ending, had managed to keep me both interested and entertained in a way most other politically motivated dramas haven’t.

Promised Land is out on UK Blu-ray and DVD from today.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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