“Promised Land’ goes pretty far as an environmental primer, but it could have gone further as a thoughtful drama or a hard-hitting political statement.
Matt Damon stars as Steve Butler, a pitchman for a natural-gas company who comes into a rural New York town seeking to buy up drilling rights to the locals’ land. Butler encounters hardscrabble folks eager to get money and politicians happy to take under-the-table money. Butler and his sales partner, the no-nonsense Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand), run into a wizened science teacher (Hal Holbrook) who questions the safety of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), and a charismatic environmentalist (John Krasinski) who rolls into town eager to fight the drilling.
The script, by Damon and Krasinski (based on a story by novelist Dave Eggers), sets up the players and explains the issues — but neither they nor director Gus Van Sant really try to confront the consequences of the industry they explain. Only in a third-act reveal does the movie approach a bracing level of cynicism, but then Damon and Krasinski back away from that for a treacly Frank Capra-style ending.
Opens today at theaters everywhere; rated R for language; 106 minutes.