January 4, 2013
'Promised Land' doesn't fully deliver
By Liz Braun, QMI Agency

Promised Land is an homage to small town America and to a sense of community that city slickers rarely see.

The film stars Matt Damon as Steve and Frances McDormand as Sue, both representatives of a company that extracts natural gas from the ground through the environmentally dubious fracking method. Steve and Sue work economically depressed farming towns as a team, getting the locals to sign away drilling rights to their land in exchange for much-needed money. As someone who grew up on a farm and saw how that way of life is going by the wayside, Steve makes an excellent corporate guy. He knows very well that idyllic farm life is often a fantasy, and that poverty and hard times are all many farmers ever see.

So he is happy with what he does for a living because he sees the good his company's money can do. At the same time, he is obviously still attracted to small town life.

Both Steve and Sue have little time for big-picture environmentalists. Steve seems vaguely naive about just how much damage fracking can do, although he's proud to report that his company has never lost a law suit. At the same time, he's not above bribing local officials who get in the way of his work, so it's difficult to figure out what makes his character tick.

Steve and Sue get sent into a farm community in Pennsylvania. They begin convincing the locals that the money they'll get for drilling rights will mean better days for them and their families. Things are going well; Steve encounters a local woman (Rosemarie DeWitt) he finds attractive, and Steve and Sue quickly ingratiate themselves.

Conflict comes in the person of an older resident (Hal Holbrook) who asks hard questions and suggests a town vote on land sales and fracking; worse yet, an environmental activist (John Krasinski) shows up in town and wreaks havoc with Steve and Sue's plans.


In the beginning, Promised Land unfolds beautifully, with well-realized characters and a challenging story that's all about moral grey areas -- possible environmental damage on one hand, possible financial revitalization of entire communities on the other. The second half of the story, however, fails to ignite; the solution feels rushed and never really makes sense.

Promised Land is a film that has both Frances McDormand and Rosemarie DeWitt on hand and does nothing with either; that's a bad sign. There's enough going on here to keep you interested for the most part, all good intentions and fine performances, but the film is ultimately a bit of a letdown.

liz.braun@sunmedia.ca