Film review: Promised Land - Matt Damon's fracking movie is full of natural gas
In Promised Land, Matt Damon plays an aw-shucks nice guy who wants to be the caring face of capitalism. He has come to rural Pennsylvania with his pragmatic colleague (Frances McDormand) to persuade the town of McKinley to lease their land to a natural gas corporation. The economics of it are pretty brutal.
Towns like this one are dying, unable to survive on agriculture, and some of the locals embrace the offer with enthusiasm. Selling up could make them millionaires. But that's before they understand about hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", which extracts the gas by a high-speed drilling of water and chemicals. The consequences can be dire: your livestock poisoned, your kitchen taps spouting flames.
The fracking controversy is a political hot potato, though perhaps not such a terrific draw for a Saturday night movie. Gus Van Sant, working from a script by Damon and John Krasinski, tries to humanise the debate, and he has such good performers that for a while it works. Hal Holbrook plays a high-school science teacher who kick-starts the opposition, and Krasinski – another, taller nice guy – plays an environmental warrior who mobilises them.
The latter isn't just winning the propaganda war; he also outflanks Damon as rival for the sassy school teacher, played with a wonderful, sexy wryness by Rosemarie DeWitt, an actress whose name is one more perfect thing about her.
Promised Land comes over as a less whimsical version of Bill Forsyth's Local Hero, a fable of downhome values giving corporate ambition a proper pasting. But its heartfelt good intentions are rather tiresome; it pokes its righteous finger with all the subtlety of a cattle-prod. (Those seeking an informed consideration of fracking should seek out Josh Fox's 2010 documentary Gasland.)
The only interesting nuance here is Damon's mounting self-doubt as the proselytiser for natural gas; he's done all that befits a conscientious man, but is he really in the right job? In trying to position him as the moral hero the script performs a last-minute switcheroo, the sort that insults both the characters and the audience. I won't disclose what happens, other than to say it's unforgivable.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits record low as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Germany sees 'visible rise' in support for far-right extremism in response to perceived 'Islamisation' of the West