dan cohen gives us his last ‘fracking’ review of the year…
Plot: When the representative (Matt Damon) of a major gas company comes into a small farming community so they can dig for gas, and help their failing economy, he is met with resistance from the town, and things get worse when an environmentalist (John Krasinski) shows up to lead the opposition.
Uh-oh, here we go. It’s the small little farm community Vs. the big gas company. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Let the debates begin! Actually, while there is plenty of preaching, this film does a good job of staying focused on the protagonist, Steve Butler (Matt Damon), the gas sales rep, and that’s who we care about. I appreciated the film for giving both sides of the argument on an even keel. It’s not about political debates, and people whining about why they’re right. It’s about this one guy, and how his experience in this small town will affect him and his decisions … or at least it was until a really bullshit third act, but we’ll get there.
As I mentioned before, this film presents two arguments that I’m sure a lot of people feel very passionate about. Does this community take the economic boost and allow gas drilling, or should they be concerned about supposed health hazards, and a potential end to their long standing farming culture. The reason why this movie is able to present both sides in a calm and rational manner is because they make the characters very likable, especially the two charismatic gas reps, Butler and Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand). It’s impossible to dislike these characters. They are funny, have great banter not only between themselves, but with other characters as well. As sub-plots, both are given romantic interests. Butler chases a local teacher, Alice, played by Rosemarie DeWitt, and Sue becomes infatuated with Rob (Titus Welliver), a local shop owner. Both relationships present great chemistry, and keep it more character focused then political focused.
On the other side of the debate, we have Frank (Hal Holbrook), the old timer science teacher, who initially stirs the pot against the gas drilling, and calls for the town to vote. Holbrook does a good job of skirting the line between a smart leader and annoying crotchety old man. In fact, I wish we saw more of Holbrook, who’s really only in 2-3 scenes. He has a great moment with Damon’s character, and you wish they were the ones debating more.
Instead, the main antagonist towards Damon is environmentalist Dustin Noble played by John Krasinski. They make him equally charismatic opposite Damon, so both characters were good foils. The character Krasinski plays was a bit on the douche side, but that was the point. Krasinski does a good job though of making him funny, so the douche factor didn’t bug me as much. Although I feel like another actor could have done a better job, and there is one scene where Krasinski talks to a classroom of students that was just too much of an extreme argument. That’s why I would have much rather seen the movie be more about Damon Vs. Holbrook, as opposed to Damon Vs. Krasinski.
The strength of the film though is Damon. Right from the start, he goes into a great monologue of why he does what he does. Butler came from a small farm that he saw go under, and it’s because of these personal reasons why we get on board with the character. And Damon delivers this speech hook, line, and sinker. The best part about this film are his monologues, including one he gives at a bar to his most loud mouth antagonist that really floors you. This is really his big defense of why he does what he does, and it’s all sound arguments. Without spoiling it, the response from his opposition after the speech is also completely justified as the man makes his point in so many words.
I have to say though, there was one speech Damon gives where the American Flag is the entire background, so the screen is just Damon’s head in front of the flag talking…really? Try and be more subtle. But generally, the speeches were my favorite parts of the film. And that’s what I liked about this movie. It never took one agenda. It presented reasonable and likable human beings presenting their arguments, even if they did get out of hand at times. But when the film introduces a terrible third act twist, the film lost major points.
The main question this film asks is, will Butler’s beliefs change? I liked watching him go through this progression in all the interactions he has, from the relationship with his partner, through the courtship of Alice, his talks with Frank, and of course his dealings with Dustin. I was interested to see what he would ultimately decide as he of course makes the big predictable speech to everyone at the end.
But what really set me off with this film, and left Butler’s character development cold to me was that this decision didn’t come from his experience in being in this town, it was basically forced upon him in the last 15-20 minutes when one of the sides of the argument does something really shitty. And this twist was two-fold in how frustrating it was. The first part to it pissed me off, but the second element to the twist almost ruins the entire movie. In a film where both sides were played evenly, with everybody having sound reasoning for what they believed in, the script (written by Damon and Krasinski) basically tells us, ‘nope, there was a right answer all along.’
Despite the frustrating ending, there’s some really well written, and well delivered performances that make this a worth while watch. And as much as I hated Butler’s wrap- up at the end because of the twist, I loved how they conclude Sue’s story, his partner. And they do it with one line of dialogue that couldn’t have been more perfect. And as much as I hated what they did in the third act, I could feel it building in the air throughout the whole movie, making it very predictable. I recommend Promised Land, just be prepared to leave unfulfilled.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (Slightly better than ‘meh’)