Promised Land (2012)

Leave this movie alone if you love the Tea Party. But for those who believe that government has a role to play in the free market system, enjoy.

Rating: As enjoyable at home as on the big screen.

Promised LandPromised Land, a movie directed by Gus Van Sant with a script written by Matt Damon and John Krasinski, is a tiny movie that makes us look at our country’s reflection in a cinematic mirror. It is a built around the present day attempts of big business in this country to quietly buy up farming communities in order to engage in the process known as fracking to gain access to natural gas.

Mr. Damon and the always accomplished Frances McDormand play employees of one of those companies. They are likeable, funny and committed to the cause of their employer. This includes dressing and acting like the farmers they are on a mission to coax into signing away the rights to their property to permit future drilling.

Both Damon and McDormand know the company gospel, and their job is nothing less than to convince average people to see a pot of gold waiting at the end of the corporate rainbow. Damon anticipates few problems, while Ms. McDormand’s only real concern is her teenage son who she can only reach through her computer.

Trouble develops for the pair in the form of both Hal Holbrook and John Krasinski. Mr. Holbrook plays a science teacher who has studied the dangers of fracking, and he resists the temptation to have his neighbors sell quickly. As Mr. Holbrook responds to Mr. Damon, “Sure we all need money. But where do we move if our land is ruined?”;

As for Mr. Krasinski, he seems to be representing an unknown environmental company that is trying to convince the local populace that fracking could lead to something far worse than a quick buck. As an example, he points out the very real dangers regarding polluting the underground water supply for these farms, and he quickly engages Mr. Damon in a contest for the hearts and minds of these decent farmers.

Just as the battle reaches its peak, a totally unanticipated twist develops that throws everyone into chaos. I dare not even describe it, as I didn’t see it coming, and you probably won’t either. Let me just say that it challenges everyone’s conclusions reached both on and off the screen, and it provides the conscience for the entire film.

Mr. Damon is his normal convincing self, here playing a guy who is a compassionate villain. Mr. Krasinski continues to build on his great performance in TV’s The Office. He is compelling here as he competes with Mr. Damon, which includes the attention of a likeable, single grade school teacher played by Rosemarie DeWitt.

Hal Holbrook once again brings the same passion to this movie as he did in Sean Penn’s wonderful Into the Wild (2007). In a sense, he appears as a thoughtful everyman who is largely ignored in our political process today. He is 87 years old and is a joyous acting miracle.

Let me be clear that Promised Land has an obvious political agenda and as a result there are some of you who are going to find it annoyingly one-sided. On the other hand, there are people like me who firmly believe that there is a segment of corporate America that has succeeded in selling a conservative philosophy over the common good. Like it or not, this film deals with that reality.

For example, did anyone take the time to notice how many of our large banks have just paid billions of dollars in fines for their misconduct leading to our recent recession? Did any of you notice what BP paid for almost destroying the Gulf of Mexico, not to mention the shorelines of Mississippi and Louisiana? Would these companies have escaped liability without the authority exercised by our federal government?

Regardless, see Promised Land if you can. It is a thoughtful tale of modern-day America.