Sunday, January 27, 2013



           HAL HOLBROOK

Director: Gus Van Sant
Genre: Drama

So Steve (Matt Damon) and his partner in crime, Sue, (Frances McDormand) roll into the quaint farming community of McKinley as representatives of a big natural gas juggernaut (so big it's called "Global") that wants to get the local rubes to sell the drilling rights to their land so that the company can come in and start fracking everything up in the name of big business taking whatever they want. (Fracking is the colloquial term for industrial gas drilling.)  The shekels the company offers for drilling rights make the economically challenged locals' eyes light up with dollar signs and they forget about those possible unfortunate side-effects of  poisoning the air and water. (Like those drug commercials on TV that start out by telling you the benefits of the drug in the first ten seconds, then the next forty-five seconds are devoted to a laundry list of side effects that could be so harmful and debilitating--even fatal--that no one in his right mind would even consider taking that poison--then the last five seconds they say in a smiling voice: SO ASK YOUR DOCTOR ABOUT FRAXIL !  And people do...because they are insane.)

But it ain't gonna be so easy to roll over the yokels  in Promised Land  because at least one resident didn't get his education behind the barn.Former engineer Frank Yates, (Hal Holbrook) teaches science at the local high school, and he wants the town to put  the proposition to a public vote (united we stand--divided we fall off the bar stool one by one.)

Then along comes Jones in the form of Dustin Noble, (John Krasinski) an environmentalist who blows into town like a foreboding wind and begins to make waves. Steve, who honestly seems to believe in what he's peddling--at least at first--and Dustin are ready made rivals  Promised Land  is clearly nudging you to root for the good guy Dustin in the name of things most of us hold sacred, like clean air and water, but the movie is magnanimous enough to present the other side as well to anyone who is listening. That is until the out-of-left-field plot twist near the end that gives a surreal good versus evil dynamic to the proceedings--it's the conflict between those who have no conscience and those who allow their conscience to get the best of them--but it feels like they are beating us over the head with it.

Damon and Krasinski play off of each other well, as each tries to win over the hearts and minds of the townsfolk. Mcdormand's character has been around the block a time or three--she's just a gal who is more concerned about getting along and providing for her family in the short term, and doesn't want to think about long-term implications. (Like most folks, it seems.) Rosemary DeWitt gives a nice turn as Alice, a local school teacher who is attracted to both Steve and Dustin, exemplifying the film's theme of inner conflict.

In the end, Promised Land is likely to create a few more cynics in a society that may already be too cynical for its own good.

Grade:  B