“Promised Land” Review: Solid Character Drama With A Political Backdrop

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“Promised Land” Review: Solid Character Drama With A Political Backdrop

By Wesley Emblidge and Wesley Emblidge

Matt Damon in “Promised Land”

Any film centered on a political issue has the challenge of taking a stance on it. Either you’re biased, choosing one side to take, or you refuse to take a side, using the politics as a backdrop to a story. In the case of “Promised Land,” the new film from director Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting” “Milk”), writers Matt Damon and John Krasinski chose the latter. Although the story revolves around fracking and the political/ethical questions surrounding it, the film opts to center on the people rather than the issue itself.

Steve (Matt Damon) is a salesman for the natural gas company GLOBAL, who goes to small farming communities with Sue (Frances McDormand) to try to get them to let GLOBAL drill on their land. Steve is up for a job as the VP of Land Development at the start of the film, but oddly, he gets the job just as they start out in the town, somewhat removing the stakes. However, Steve is still good at his job, and everything is going smoothly until a local science teacher (Hal Holbrook) and Dustin (John Krasisnki), a representative from an environmental group, attempt to stop the company from drilling in the town. They convince to town to together put it to a vote in three weeks, giving Steve and Dustin that time to try and get members of the town on their respective sides.

It’s a fairly basic story, but the writing and performances elevate it above the standard drama. Damon and Krasinski make all the characters feel like real people, and from the first scene of the movie make sure that the small-town people aren’t portrayed as ignorant or characterchures. The entire cast is great, everyone is so charismatic it’s sometimes tough to even decide who to root for. It’s smooth sailing until around the third act, where a twist comes in that really doesn’t work, and makes a lot of other elements of the film seem just illogical.

Despite all that, “Promised Land” is a very solid drama, perhaps not as good as Van Sant and Damon’s last collaboration “Good Will Hunting,” but at the very least enjoyable for it’s cast and their characters. It chooses to focus on the people rather than the political issue at hand, and although that may bother some, I actually preferred it just as a character drama.

 

4/5 Stars