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.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Half of young women unable to ‘locate vagina’ and 65% find it difficult to say the word
- 2 Emma Watson on Jennifer Lawrence naked photo leak: 'Even worse than seeing women's privacy violated is reading the comments'
- 3 Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb
- 4 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 5 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
Scottish independence referendum: Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai and Frightened Rabbit to play in support of Yes campaign
Jessica Chastain demands Scarlett Johansson-fronted Marvel superhero movie
Downton Abbey series 5 start date revealed: ITV drama to return in late September
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
Olivia Colman and Mary Berry top Radio Times' female power list
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ashya King: 'Cruel NHS has not given us the treatment we need', says father of five-year-old with brain tumour who fled to Spain