Review: 'Promised Land' doesn't dig deep
This undated publicity film image provided by Focus Features shows Frances McDormand starring as Sue Thomason in Gus Van Sant's contemporary drama, "Promised Land," a Focus Features release. (AP Photo/Focus Features, Scott Green)
"Promised Land" offers an experience that's alternately amusing and frustrating, full of impassioned earnestness as well as saggy sections.
Director Gus Van Sant has the challenging task of taking the divisive, high-tech practice of fracking and trying to make it not just human but cinematic. Working from a script by co-stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski, based on a story by Dave Eggers, he succeeds in fits and starts.
The impoverished small town that's the tale's setting, a place in need of the kind of economic rejuvenation that extracting natural gas could provide, is full of folksy folks whose interactions with the main characters don't always ring true. "Promised Land" has its heart on its sleeve and its pro-environment message is quite clear, but it's in the looser and more ambiguous places that the film actually works.
In this undated publicity film image John Krasinski stars as Dustin Noble in Gus Van Sant's contemporary drama, "Promised Land," a Focus Features release. (AP Photo/Focus Features, Scott Green)
Damon, collaborating with Van Sant for the third time as both screenwriter and actor (following "Gerry" and the Oscar-winning "Good Will Hunting"), stars as Steve Butler, a salesman traveling the country on behalf of a bland behemoth of an energy corporation. Having grown up on an Iowa farm himself and seen how an economic downturn can devastate a small town, Steve is a likable everyman who seems genuinely invested in what he's selling. But he's also a pragmatist, as evidenced by the playfully cynical give-and-take he enjoys with his partner, Sue, played by a dry, sharp Frances McDormand.