Matt Damon insists he’s not a bad guy in Promised Land.
PROMISED LAND (Gus Van Sant). 106 minutes. Opens Friday (January 4). See listing. Rating: NNN
I'm not sure when Gus Van Sant decided to be Stanley Kramer; maybe it was when Milk got all those Oscar nominations. But his new film, Promised Land, is a straight-up issue picture about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing and the moral cost of working for a company that utilizes it.
The script, written by co-stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski, suits Kramer's outmoded 1960s sort of morality. Think of The Defiant Ones, Inherit The Wind and Judgment At Nuremberg, where characters exist to be on the right or wrong side of a thing.
Damon and Frances McDormand play a pair of smooth-talking natural-gas reps who come to a small town offering lucrative lease deals to drill gas wells on farms and homesteads. But then a local schoolteacher (Hal Holbrook) raises some questions, an environmentalist (Krasinski) arrives with a story about fracking having poisoned his family farm, and Damon's character starts to wonder why he has to keep reminding everyone that he's not such a bad guy.
For its first hour or so, Promised Land ambles along pleasantly enough, setting up the conflicts amongst its characters by letting the cast exchange snappy dialogue. But Damon and Krasinski's script resolves the picture's simplistic conflicts with a cynical raspberry followed by an utterly empty moment of moral clarity.
If you do see Promised Land - and you probably should, because it's made with intelligence and touches on an important issue - just ask yourself how much better it would have been with a little more murk. A lot, I'm thinking.