Promised Land (2012)
“A forgettable film with few unforgettable parts, Promised Land is merely acceptable.”
GRADE: 2/5 Stars
by Richard Rey
Promised Land follows the life of Steve (Matt Damon), a man who works for a natural gas company called Global. His job involves going to rural farm towns and convincing them to allow Global to purchase and drill on their land in exchange for large sums of money. The subtext of Damon’s acting suggests he has mixed feelings towards his career, though we are told in exposition that he may just be the best at what he does. As we follow Steve and his business partner Sue (Frances McDormand) in a beat down red pickup to the town of McKinley the film offers us beautiful aerial shots of green pastures and plush meadows. The townspeople of McKinley seem to have been warned that the “natural gas people” will soon arrive and nearly all of them greet Steve and Sue with a cold shoulder. Steve and Sue disguise themselves as best they can as farming folk, wearing cliché flannel shirts and working boots and begin to speak to the families one by one. They promise them large sums of money, a better future for their children, and a lifetime of rest from their arduous labor. Neither characters seem to want to be in McKindley, and as a result, neither do we. The movie’s pacing is grueling – just at the time it picks up, even just a little, it slows back down to a nearly catatonic state.
The opportunities for us to care about this farming community and the characters as a whole are few and far between since the script doesn’t allow for it. The film is, however, at times endearing, charming, light, fun, and in some ways even heartwarming. Unfortunately, the slowness of the movie puts out any of the warm fuzziness we may occasionally stumble into. The scenes that should touch us most are those that drag the longest – the fine line between small-town farm togetherness and cheesiness (no pun intended) is crossed time and time again, even during some of the most pivotal scenes of the film. A scene in the local gymnasium proves thus. An old biology teacher named Yates stands up against the idea of the drilling when the town politician suggests they vote on whether or not to sell their land. All of the farmers, who admittedly need the money Global would provide them, seem to have their minds already made up on the matter: Global is an evil corporate beast that will suck the life out of their farms, families, and homes. The one-sidedness of this theme is so blatant and beaten over and over and over so many times that the remnants of the dead horse it once flogged have since decomposed – twice over. For whatever reason, the town will put the matter to a vote three weeks later, allowing the ‘natural gas people’ to offer them sums of money they will inevitably reject on the basis that people come before wealth and that things inherited are things to be cared for.
Consequently, Steve’s involvement in the McKindley project is on the line when Global finds out about the town’s reaction towards drilling in spite of the fact they had promoted him a few days earlier. As if the town’s eye-closing, ear-plugging, breath holding tactic against Global weren’t enough, in steps Dustin Noble (John Krasinski) – an environmentalist who has the evidence necessary to prove to the already-convinced townspeople that Global has indeed harmed other farming communities in its dark past. For one reason or another, the entire farming community seems to greet Dustin with open arms as they would a best friend in whom they have confided for years. Steve gives up on himself and the project, drinks heavily and stops caring – the problem being that if he doesn’t care at all about this, then why should we? There’s no fight in the dog, if any dog in the fight at all, and unthinkably the movie slows down even more. The final result is an ending that is unpredictable for all the wrong reasons and that takes so long in its revelation that no one, not even Matt Damon, buys into the idea that the story was worthwhile in its conception. It would’ve been better off shot as a documentary, where we know bias is involved rather than making a cheap sneak-thief effort to not wake daddy while blowing whistles, sounding trumpets and clashing cymbals throughout the house. A forgettable film with few unforgettable parts, Promised Land is merely acceptable.
MPAA: R (language)
Runtime: 107 (grueling) mins
Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, John Krasinski
Written By: Matt Damon, John Krasinski