Title: Promised Land
HTS Overall Score:71
Matt Damon has a penchant for putting himself front and center on social and political issues and Promised Land isn’t the first time he’s taken these issues to the big screen. In 2010, playing the role of Miller in Green Zone, he spent his time hopelessly hunting down weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Now, in rural America, he’s spreading an anti-fracking message through a script that he helped pen (along with co-star John Krasinski). While I appreciate that the dangers of fracking are addressed, the movie is too one-sided and left me wondering about the legitimacy of counter-arguments for the practice. I was hoping for a bit more from this film, primarily because Damon was teaming up with Director Gus Van Sant. This same team had a smash hit with 1997’s Good Will Hunting. Unfortunately, Promised Land is a far cry from the heights that movie experienced.
In Promised Land, Steve Butler (Matt Damon) is a corporate salesman with small town roots working for a $9 billion natural gas company named Global Cross Power. Steve and his jovial sales partner, Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand), spend their working days visiting towns burdened by economic hardships and offering money for natural gas drilling rights to their properties. This duo has a history of strong success, having closed three-times as many properties as their colleagues and for a lot less money. This has captured the attention of Global’s management team and put a spotlight on Steve’s rising future within the company. While reveling in his corporate success, Steve also sees himself as an empathetic force offering folks the financial stability his childhood community lacked when it was devastated by the closure of a local factory.
Steve and Sue are dispatched to a small town in rural Pennsylvania. The town is never named, but could be called Any Town, USA. It’s riddled with rolling farmlands and seemingly simple folks struggling to make ends meet. Their job is to swoop-in, charm the locals, and get drilling rights to the land. Steve’s routine plan encounters a roadblock when local resident Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook) flexes his aged and educated muscles by publicly questioning the safety of “fracking” or drilling for natural gas. This causes Steve to break his standard business protocol by confronting Frank at a town hall meeting. Steve and Sue are quickly informed that the town will vote on their future involvements with Global in two weeks time. Amongst the rush to squelch Frank and win-over the community, Steve meets a young woman named Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt) at the local watering hole and begins feeling as if the tide has changed and luck is coming his way.
With company executives applying pressure to win the town’s vote, Steve and Sue assure their superiors that the situation is under control. That’s when a second, peskier, fly in-the-ointment arrives on the scene in the form of a determined environmentalist name Dustin Nobel (John Krasinski). He presents the community evidence that Global’s drilling activities will poison the town’s land. Dustin, like Steve, is also from a small town and quickly assimilates into the community, beating Steve at his own game. Folks are smitten with his sensible plain-talk and shocked by his anti-Global evidence. He even begins to lay the foundation for a relationship with Alice, which only further irritates Steve.
Steve and Dustin begin what can best be described as a David vs Goliath jousting match. Dustin seemingly gains the upper hand. Knowing this, Steve begins to use the financial might of his company’s wealth, but also begins to wonder if Dustin’s argument is legitimate. It’s at this point that the story begins to change and a discovery is made that not only changes the landscape of Steve and Dustin’s conflict, but their relationships with the town.
The film, itself, is essentially a tale of two halves. The first half is energized by Steve Butler’s positive nature and industrious spirit. Intrigue builds as his seemingly unflappable character begins to feel pressure and unwind. Ultimately, though, the movie’s big twist and the sudden changes in character motivations makes the ending rather predictable. It’s this letdown that makes the overwhelming political message of the movie feel force-fed to some degree. That’s not to say that Promised Land is a movie to pass, I found the film to be enjoyable enough and can easily recommend it as a rental.
Rated R for language
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/news/PL6.jpg[/img]Promised Land’s 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode is generally very impressive. My biggest gripe is its 1.85:1 aspect ratio (which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for a drama). The movie’s color palate is relatively muted, however reds and greens definitely pop with a striking crispness. Many of the movie’s outdoor scenes contain tantalizing amounts of detail, readily found in sweeping shots of vast farmlands and trees. Close-up shots of faces are full of detail and clarity. Dark and indoor scenes are also pleasing to the eye with little evidence of noise and plenty of shadow detail.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/news/PL5.jpg[/img]The audio presentation is very similar to the video presentation. It’s primarily understated with moments of vibrancy that keep the film alive. The film’s original score by Danny Elfman beautifully conveys the film’s bucolic nature and, later in the film, a growing sense of urgency. It is anchored by a fantastic selection of American roots music that fits perfectly with the film’s small town nature. Dialog is excellent and well centered, with voices having a nice warmth and weight. Surround activity is used appropriately and is full of calling birds, cars passing by, chatter in rooms, and even the cracking of the thunder. I was pleasantly surprised to find some LFE (albeit limited), highlighted by deep rumbles of thunder, the roar of roadways inside of cars, and thuds of doors being closed.
• Extended Scene
• The Making of Promised Land
I found Promised Land to be a mixed bag kind of movie. It's staring cast is rock solid and Gus Van Sant has given us two excellent movies in Good Will Hunting and Milk. So my expectations were rather high. The film is generally enjoyable and starts fast out of the gates with an engaging storyline. Ultimately it begins to slip when Matt Damon's character shows signs of a change of heart, which I found unconvincing and forced. Not to mention, the movie features a bombshell moment that is nearly impossible to predict. Those two ingredients are ultimately what soured the movie just a bit. Looking past those issues, the acting is excellent and, considering its a drama, the movie has solid audio and visual presentations. I'd definitely recommend trying this movie on for size as a rental if the opportunity presents itself.
Starring: Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, John Krasinski
Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Written by: John Krasinski and Matt Damon
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1
Studio: Universal Studios
Runtime: 106 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: April 23rd, 2013
Buy Promised Land Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Rent It!