Matt Damon’s latest film, “Promised Land,” is a solid personal drama that should stir up some passion thanks to its environmental underpinnings. At first glance, the film seems like it’s gearing up to deliver a pro-farming, anti-energy drilling statement, but in something of a surprise, the story takes a neutral stance on the issue right up until the final moments. I suspect that neutrality will leave both the pro-business and the pro-environment audiences disappointed that the film didn’t focus more on its controversial subject matter.
Damon plays Steve, a down-home guy who works for Global Energy, a natural gas exploration company that sends him in to small communities to convince local farmers to allow them to drill on their land. Steve is very good at his job; he’s something of a farm boy himself, and he’s poised to sign up most of the farmers and move on to the next town.
Things take an unexpected turn when the high school science teacher (Hal Holbrook) doesn’t swallow the company line about the extraction method of fracking being safe for the land. Then an environmental activist (John Krasinski) rolls into town and immediately charms the locals, including the attractive school teacher (Rosemarie DeWitt) who had been flirting with Steve.
Suddenly Steve is asking himself how far he’ll go in order to win back the townsfolk. He keeps telling himself that he’s “not a bad man,” but his job is giving him doubts. He’s afraid that career success might actually doom the town, even though the town is on the verge of economic collapse anyway.
It’s interesting that “Promised Land” isn’t really about the practice of fracking, but it focuses instead on the personal and professional conflict of the main character. That makes for a pretty good drama, and Damon is as charismatic and as charming as always. The problem is that the film delivers a last second surprise announcement that makes you forget about all the previous good work. It’s as if the filmmakers tacked on the surprise ending so they could make a last second political statement, but it doesn’t feel germane to the rest of the plot.
“Promised Land” ends up being an okay drama with a nice performance by Damon. The supporting cast is generally good as well, but they do tend to disappear for long stretches of the movie. The film is engaging and even though-provoking, right up until the surprise ending, where unfortunately, everything falls apart. Ultimately, “Promised Land” is okay, but nothing special.
Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.