Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt, Hal Holbrook
I will be honest. I had never heard of the term "fracking" until Promised Land came around. I am assuming that many people do not know what that term is. Fracking is the slang term for hydraulic fracturing which is the core debate in the latest Gus Van Sant/Matt Damon reunion. Steve Butler (Damon) and Sue Thomason (McDormand) work for Global, a natural gas company that is interested in buying farm land in order to drill for gas. Steve and Sue visit a small rural town in hopes to buy land from residents and offer them thousands of dollars in return depending on the acreage of each property. These are not rich people nor are the farms surviving, so this money could help them out in the tough economy. So they say. They go clothes shopping and drink at the local tavern in order to fit in and appear relatable to the local residents.
Their goal was to get enough signatures and be gone within a couple of days. That idea quickly changes the moment opposition starts to happen. During an initial town hall meeting at the run down high school gymnasium, retired high school teacher Frank Yates (Holbrook) questions the plan for drilling by bringing up concerns and facts from previous drilling attempts in other locations. It is easy to pass him off as the old man curmudgeon, but he is one of the smartest and well educated men in town. Another opposing viewpoint comes from Dustin Noble (Krasinski). He arrives in town at the same time as Steve and Sue and claims he is from an environmental agency. He comes ready to fight with the story of how his family farm was ruined by drilling. He comes with props, banners, and signs displaying the pictures of the dead cows. The town's residents become divided on where to stand. Is it immoral and unethical due to the potential results of the drilling or does the paycheck out weigh that?
Damon and Krasinski wrote the screenplay together as well as starring as the two opposing viewpoints. Damon was supposed to direct it, but dropped out and got his former Good Will Hunting director Gus Van Sant to take over. Do not go into this movie thinking it is going to be this big preachy movie with a binder full of facts and scientific jargon thrown at you. There is no big courtroom scene nor is it based on the story of a specific town. The story is focused more on the character study of the two leads as well as the residents. While I appreciate that the movie is more about the moral struggles of the characters over a legal battle, I still wanted a bit more specificity and discussion about what exactly fracking is and the impacts on the environment. The discussions are pretty elementary and tend to get glossed over. Speaking of elementary, one of the longest discussions happens to be Krasinski explaining it to a bunch of grade school children. I have been looking forward to Matt Damon getting back to writing and Krasinski is a good writing partner for him now than Ben Affleck is off directing.
The script is full of the funny and witty banter that both of the leads are good at playing at. McDormand is always sharp and on point in every performance. You know her character is simply doing her job. Whether or not Sue fully agrees with it, it is her job and she will do what she has to do. Damon’s character knows it is just his job but always seems to be on the verge of flipping sides. Hal Holbrook has had quite a run of playing small, but important, characters recently in Into the Wild, Water for Elephants, and Lincoln. He has another minor role here that I wish would have been fleshed out more. He is so fantastic that I always want to see more of him in every movie. The costume design and cinematography successfully demonstrate the kind of town these residents live in. If you have been to ever been to a small rural town, you know these types of people. This is nowhere near that caliber of work Van Sant or Damon has done before, but it certainly is nowhere near their worst. It did not have the emotional punch that I expected it to give me. Despite that, the relatable characters and struggles keep the story interesting.
RATING: *** 1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)