The combined likability of actors Matt Damon and John Krasinski should be enough to have audiences interested in seeing their new movie “Promised Land.” Adding to its appeal is the fact that the two stars also co-wrote the screenplay and Damon’s “Good Will Hunting” director Gus Van Sant is at the helm. “Promised Land” revolves around a rural American town’s struggle to recover from the economic downturn and whether they should sell drilling rights on their land to a large corporation in order to do so.
Despite the appeal of the film’s packaging, the critical masses were not universally impressed with the whole of the finished product, which resulted in a “rotten” rating over at Rotten Tomatoes. Without further ado, join us for a trek through the mineral rich soil of the “Promised Land” reviews!
“Thirty-eight-year-old Steve Butler (Damon) is a top salesman for Global, a $9 billion fracking company that sends him to small towns nationwide to buy land from locals for the purposes of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — a drilling process in which the soil is blasted with pressurized chemicals to release natural gas. As he and his associate Sue (Frances McDormand, dependably snappy) go door-to-door, obtaining signatures in exchange for assurances of economic salvation, Steve harbors conflicted feelings about a job he’s clearly good at. Himself a farm boy turned big-city professional, he retains an honest affection for the blue-collar work ethic and humble, salt-of-the-earth spirit he encounters, and he’s painfully aware that he’s effectively gutting entire communities under the pretext of revitalizing them. Steve’s moral reservations catch up with him on a job in Pennsylvania farm country, where a whip-smart high-school science teacher (a fine Hal Holbrook) successfully challenges Global’s agenda and calls for the town to vote on the company’s proposition rather than blithely accept it. An even peskier obstacle arrives in the form of Dustin Noble (Krasinski), a dogged activist who launches an anti-Global campaign, teaching locals that fracking is not only laying waste to a proud agricultural tradition, but also contributing to air/water pollution and killing livestock (problems examined at length in Josh Fox’s 2010 docu ’GasLand’).” — Justin Chang, Variety
The Environmental Message
” ’Promised Land’ itself, however, has a point to make, and it does so in a way that is both honorable and disappointing. It admirably tries to represent both sides of the fracking debate, even though its allegiance is clearly to the antifracking position. There is nothing wrong with such advocacy, except that in this case it means that the movie veers away from its strengths, ending in a welter of convenient (and dubious) plot twists and puffed-up speeches. Viewers who are already skeptical of fracking are likely to find gratification in the film’s sentimental, studiously ambiguous conclusion. Those seeking scientific information will need to look elsewhere — not that rigorous science is what anyone expects from a movie. But ’Promised Land’ feels divided against itself, not quite sure how to reconcile its polemical intentions with its storytelling impulses, and thus finally unable to fulfill its own promise.” — A.O. Scott, The New York Times
“What’s more, despite their Everyman appeal, Damon and Krasinski don’t create much by way of emotional investment, instead becoming mirror images of their most mild-mannered, white-bread selves. ’Promised Land’ is helped mightily by McDormand, who, as always, injects a jolt of welcome dry humor into every scene she’s in, and Rosemarie DeWitt, as a local girl both men try to date. When these formidable actresses are on screen, “Promised Land” fizzes and pops; otherwise it’s an attractive, well-intentioned dry well.” — Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
The Small Town Setting and Sensibility
“Gliding on Danny Elfman’s ethereal score and cinematographer Linus Sandgren’s bucolic vistas, Promised Land (unlike Josh Fox’s searing 2010 documentary ’Gasland’) isn’t a howl of anger against corporate callousness. Channeling its environmental concerns through the character of a quietly eloquent retired scientist (Hal Holbrook), the film maintains a homey, humorous tone that only occasionally crackles with anger or disappointment. Most of the pleasure derives from Damon and McDormand’s prickly but pragmatic partnership and, later, Krasinski’s breezy cockiness as Dustin Noble, an environmental activist who woos the locals with sob stories and karaoke. Watching Dustin murder Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” in front of a bar full of applauding farmers, Steve visibly deflates.” — Jeannette Catsoulis, NPR
The Final Word
“But the script is unconvincing; two key narrative twists, one related to the other, are deeply hokey. Van Sant, a smooth craftsman, never gives us a town on the ropes. You keep hearing how tough things are — and in towns like this one, they are — yet ]’Promised Land,’ from a story idea by Dave Eggers, is too concerned with shimmering rural vistas as photographed by cinematographer Linus Sandgren to give us much grit. A movie on this subject needs more than postcards from well-meaning writers and filmmakers just traveling through.” — Michael Phillips, The Chicago Tribune
Check out everything we’ve got on “Promised Land.”