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Movie review: 'Promised Land' doesn't go far enough

Published January 8, 2013 9:02 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"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.

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'Promised Land'

Opens Friday, Jan. 4, at theaters everywhere; rated R for language; 106 minutes.