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.
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Oscar voter speaks outfilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 3 What color is The Dress, white and gold or blue and black? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 Fearne Cotton quits Radio 1 after ten years for 'family and new adventures'
Seinfeld is laughing all the way to the bank: TV show generates $3.1bn in repeat fees since final episode
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl: First look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Blade Runner sequel: Harrison Ford confirmed to return with Denis Villeneuve directing
All fiction follows one of six basic storylines, according to new research
House of Cards season 3 premiere, review: Has Frank Underwood gone soft?
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East