Rated R for language (profanity).
Steve Butler, an ace corporate salesman, is sent along with his partner, Sue Thomason, to close a key rural town in his company's expansion plans. ...
Rating: R for language
Length: 106 minutes
Released: December 28, 2012 Limited
Cast: Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt, Lucas Black
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writer: Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Dave Eggers
Matt Damon's new movie, "Promised Land," has been rated R for "language," according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Unless "fracking" refers to something other than a method of natural gas drilling, that rating seems rather harsh. Yes, the movie contains curse words, but we might point out that Tom Cruise's "Jack Reacher," for example, is rated PG-13 even though it is filled with brutality, torture and gun violence, including an opening scene in which a sniper shoots a nanny with a child.
"Promised Land" is a do-gooder's movie, but its reforms are not aimed at the MPAA's Classification & Rating Administration. The film is an attempt by director Gus Van Sant, producer/screenwriter/star Damon and producer/screenwriter/co-star John Krasinski to call attention to the controversial and environmentally destructive (according to the filmmakers and many others) practice of fracking, in which natural gas is harvested by forcing water, sand and chemicals into cracks in subterranean rock.
As its title suggests, this is a movie Bruce Springsteen might endorse (Krasinski wrestles with "Dancing in the Dark" during a comedic karaoke scene), as might Springsteen's pal, John Sayles, writer-director of such similarly eco-conscious ensemble dramas as "Sunshine State" and "Silver City."
Based on a story by Dave Eggers (from an idea by Krasinski), "Promised Land" casts Damon as Steve Butler, a hotshot salesman with a multibillion-dollar global energy company whose Iowa farmboy background gives him an edge when he and his sardonic sales partner (an amusingly tart Frances McDormand) roll into a rural community to buy drilling rights from unsophisticated local landowners. (As one dissenter comments: "The only reason you're here is because we're poor.")
Capraesque in theme but laid back in presentation, "Promised Land" takes place in rural small-town Pennsylvania, where Steve's first order of business is to buy a flannel shirt to match his heirloom farm boots and to better blend in with the type of community that would patronize a store that promises "Guns-Groceries-Guitars-Gas." Despite his duds, however, Steve's sales pitch encounters unexpected resistance: First, a local science teacher (Hal Holbrook) suggests "fracking" really is a bad word; next, a charismatic traveling environmental activist (Krasinski) not only charms the townspeople but also woos the schoolteacher (Rosemarie DeWitt) who seemed to have taken a shine to Steve. When a goodwill county fair planned by the energy reps is hit by a thunderstorm, the film suggests that even God frowns at fracking.
As one expects from Van Sant (who previously directed Damon in the popular "Good Will Hunting" and the arty "Gerry," and whose credits include "Elephant" and "Milk"), "Promised Land" is very well made, with pleasing locations (green hills, furrowed crops, proud silos) and sympathetic performances. What it lacks is an interesting story and plausible motivations.
Steve seems weirdly flummoxed by the environmentalist's tactics, as if resistance was new to him. A climactic plot twist adds drama but doesn't hold up under scrutiny. The deck seems stacked: Those skeptical of fracking are well-spoken and articulate, while those who sign up immediately are represented by veteran screen redneck Lucas Black, whose signature exclamation here is "Gosh dog!"
The result is like a well-meaning sermon from a progressive but unexciting minister; you may agree with the message, but you understand why some people prefer fire and brimstone.