Subtlety, when making a strong point, is never easy. In Promised Land, the heavy-handed apparition rears its ugly hand at the end and wrecks most of what proceeded. Despite this, the film works as a tool to make you question things openly and refrain from becoming emotionally attached to the people making the arguments for or against. Matt Damon’s character Steve is a confusing character first and foremost because he is real. He’s a man we aren’t often used to.
He will go off on verbal tangents after working up to something, but if he is faced with someone that has the upper hand in information or personality, he becomes flustered. At one point, Steve gets so angry with someone that he threatens to punch them in the face. Not the kind of hot-headed emotion we would expect from such a smooth talker. He isn’t the man with all the answers. He’s just simply a man.
His main competition comes in the form of John Krasinski, his writing partner in the feature, who plays Dustin, a small environmentalist that has it out for Steve’s company. The narrative revolves around Global’s move into a small town where they are making a play to gather land rights for potential natural gas deposits deep under the earth. The term you will perhaps recognize more than anything is “fracking”, which is the nickname for induced hydraulic fracturing, the process of drilling down into the land by using a combination of various chemicals and a lengthy well-hole to extract the natural gas.
This has become a controversial practice of late, and sets up one of the main points the film touches on. The other is the current state of the small farming towns in America and their sustainability down the road. As Steve glamorously puts it at one point, he is offering “fuck you money.” Got a mortgage payment? “Fuck you.” Have education bills? “Fuck you.” This is a windfall for both the citizens and the towns Steve and his partner Sue (Frances McDormand) visit. However, as with most things that seem too good to be true, fracking is not without risks.
The picture stars off pro-fracking at first, until a schoolteacher played by Hal Holbrook starts to challenge the propaganda. Suddenly, it becomes a cautionary tale until it truly turns into something else entirely. As endearing as Damon has been throughout his career, his everyman schtick is fairly obvious here and is forced. His character doesn’t pull you in; the circumstances are the draw. As a deconstruction of the corporate side of things, and how phoney their sales people can be, the film stands as an intriguing uncovering. But we are never emotionally tied to anyone; the film fails to pull any heart strings.
Many will rip on the ending of the film, and it has to be said that it does a fair amount of damage to the overall picture. However, everything that was said and done before still counts for something. In many ways, the film runs an odd meta parallel, and it is no secret that the original storyline was reworked to hit on the hot topic of fracking. Perhaps that’s why it never makes a truly strong statement about fracking beyond giving us some vague doom and gloom scenarios. However, if the film accomplishes making us wary of all corporations and gets us to ask where information is coming from, I think it is a success. It’s just a shame it had to take so long to make that point.