Title: Promised Land
Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, John Krasinski, Hal Holbrook
With Gus Van Sant at the helm, and Matt Damon co-writing and starring, this combo has been a recipe for something worthwhile. Well, at least once (i.e. Good Will Hunting).
But where’s the third amigo, Ben Affleck, you say? Well, since he was off directing another hit, Argo, Damon teamed up with The Office star John Krasinski to pen this screenplay about how environmental issues and corporate greed run parallel with each other. And what they churn out is the light, yet provocative, 105 minute Promised Land.
Damon and the ultimate supporting performer, Frances McDormand, work for a powerful natural gas corporation that ventures over to a small farm town to get the simple citizens onboard with allowing their company to drill the lands. In exchange, they (landowners/residents) get a share of the profits; which they all desperately need. Seems like an easy sell until an old easy-going school teacher (Hal Holbrook) challenges Damon at a town-hall meeting as he fluently spits out highly intelligent facts. Although this makes things slightly tougher for the well-oiled selling machine that is Damon and McDormand, they do not worry too much and proceed with their job.
That is until a charismatic environmentalist shows up, John Krasinski, and rallies half the town to vote against Damon’s company proposal. And his efforts lead Damon to become quite flustered, and possibly, conflicted.
Where this script shines is when Damon’s character has to “sell” his position to the local folk. His back-n-forth dialogues with Holbrook for example are so well-written, thanks to the thoughtful choosing/ordering of words. And the methodical and calm delivery via the characters makes it an easy sell to buy into, as the subtle words actually make an impression in your mind, and at times, your heart. Plus, the acting across the board is quite strong, and may be underrated compared to recent pieces that engage in this type of story.
Taking place on acres of farmland, the local tavern, and in a broken down Bronco (Damon and McDormand go to any lengths to fit in with the locals), one would think that this could become stale. But with a well-hidden twist and enough interpersonal drama amongst an assortment of folks, this keeps you engaged and pondering on which party is in the right. A presentation such as this makes you admire the task a judge has on a daily basis.
Overall, Promised Land is quite similar to the setting of the story it enacts: In relatively unknown and/or trivial places, something very rewarding could be discovered.