“You’re a good man, Steve,” says Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook). “I just wish you weren’t doing this — offering us money to scorch the land under our feet.” Frank talks to Steve Butler (Matt Damon). Steve works for a $9 billion-a-year natural gas corporation that’s buying drilling rights from local Pennsylvania farmers. “You’ll be a millionaire,” Steve tells a cash-strapped family man, but Dustin Noble (John Krasinski), a grassroots environmentalist, tells Steve, “One of these days, you’re gonna lose.” That’s the setup for this cautionary tale.
Will Steve and co-worker Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) buy the drilling rights? Does environmentalist Dustin convince the townspeople not to sell? How will the vote go at the town meeting? For answers, see this earnest, low-key film.
Matt Damon and John Krasinski play Steve Butler and Dustin Noble. They also wrote the script, from a story by Dave Eggers. Damon and Krasinski are antagonists — Steve, offering big bucks for natural-gas drilling rights, Dustin, warning townspeople of environmental costs. “If you are against us,” says Steve, who grew up in a farming town that went belly-up when local industry left, “you’re in favor of oil and coal.” But Dustin says, “We’re not fighting for land, we’re fighting for people.” Damon skillfully underplays Steve who is, as he says, “not a bad guy.” Krasinski’s Dustin is out-going, likable and good at karaoke. Hal Holbrook is avuncular high school science teacher Frank Yates. He’s cautious. “Natural gas may not be the saving grace you all think it is,” he tells townspeople.
Others in the cast include excellent Frances McDormand as corporate rep Sue Thomason, single mother, devoted to her over-achieving son, and Rosemarie DeWitt as 30-something single teacher, attracted to both Steve and Dustin. Titus Welliver is gregarious Rob, owner of the local groceries, gas, guitar and gun shop. He’s attracted to Sue. “You’ve got good hair,” he says.
“Promised Land” is a modest, environmental cautionary tale, well-made with a smart script, lovely bucolic images and evocative music. Gus Van Sant directed. Photography by Linus Sandgren. Danny Elfman wrote the music. Filmmakers call our attention to corporations only interested in a bottom line and environmental groups with suspect data. “I don’t know what to say,” says a character toward the end. “I don’t know where we are now or where we’re heading. But this (i.e., the earth) is still our barn.”
Rated R for language, “Promised Land” runs 106 minutes. Talk about the film and the fracking issues it raises on your way home.
Matt Damon’s “Promised Land”
Is a cautionary tale —
We’re stewards of the earth,
So be careful lest we fail.