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Capone vows that Gus Van Sant's PROMISED LAND is highly watchable, despite its preachy qualities!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

I'm normally all in favor of films that seem to actively defy being slid into a particular genre or category, and certain director Gus Van Sant's latest effort fits that bill (most of his films do). In a lot of ways, PROMISED LAND is a throwback film to works of the 1970s that wore their political agenda on their sleeves. But this movie also wants to be charming and folksy, and for the most part, it succeeds, with the exception of a gross miscalculation of an ending. The topic up for discussion here is the process of fracking, a process natural gas companies use to push their product to the surface and capture it. Companies buy up land rights from mostly lower- and middle-class families (many of them farmers) and pump a bunch of chemicals into the ground, which have been said to seep into the natural wells and aquifers of the area and leach toxins to the surface and into the drinking water. The visual of water coming out of the tap and being lit on fire is unforgettable. The land dies, and with it, the animals that feed off the land.

In a bold move, PROMISED LAND casts Matt Damon as Steve Butler, the natural gas man who comes to a small town with his partner Sue (Frances McDormand) and starts signing up people to give up their land rights for piles of cash—even more money if there's a gas deposit. These folks sure could use the money, and Steve grew up on a farm so he's aware of what these people are going through economically. But a few unexpected obstacles come between Steve and his contracts getting signed.

First is a local science teacher (Hal Holbrook) who actually knows how to use the internet and does a little digging on the fracking process and its consequences. He causes something of a stir at a town meeting, but that's nothing compared to environmentalist Dustin Noble (John Krasinski) leading a grassroots campaign to have Steve, Sue and their company thrown right out of town—a town that is now very divided between those who want to protect the land and those who want the payout so they can get the hell out of Dodge. Further complicating things is that Steve starts to fall for Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt), a local woman who also catches the eye of Dustin. I could have done without the love story, but DeWitt at least makes it palpable.

As strange as it may sound, PROMISED LAND doesn't really have any bad guys—at least not any shown on the screen. Steve honestly believes the current science that fracking is not a proven danger to the community. He wants to do right by these people because he knows where they're coming from. On the other hand, Dustin is a master manipulator. It's as if he knows what Steve's next move is going to be three moves ahead, and he's always there to counter with a better offer or viewpoint. But the real strength of the film is Van Sant's ability to capture little moments that make the town feel authentic. Scenes in the local watering hole or the way most people react to Steve coming to their door to give his pitch. One of my favorite supporting players is Lucas Black as Paul Geary, a guy who is ready to sign on the dotted line and buy a sports car with his check. He has no sense of the long term, and that's kind of the point.

The screenplay for PROMISED LAND was co-written by Damon and Krasinski (based on a story by Dave Eggers), and while their two characters seem custom made for these actors, Krasinski's Dustin has a few surprises in store for everyone. While the idea that corporations don't have the interests of individuals or small towns at heart isn't a new one, the story seems more interested in showing us how, for some, the payout is the only means of survival. The righteous path is a little more difficult to see when these are the stakes. There's a final town meeting scene that threatens to derail the entire film, but thankfully Van Sant has done such a fine job keeping things steady up to that point, I can forgive the downright dopey ending.

It's not my job to dish out box office predictions, but I'm not exactly sure who this film is aimed at or will appeal to. The acting is solid, the banter between Damon and McDormand rises above the material, and the film's ability to capture reality in this type of community is probably its greatest strength. But will anyone care? I hope so, because there's certainly a lot here to appreciate and enjoy. PROMISED LAND is certainly an improvement over Van Sant's last film, RESTLESS, but not quite at the level of MILK. That's still a pretty impressive stage to occupy. If you want to see a film in which the stakes don't feel quite as high (even though they should) and a running time not quite as long, this might fit the bill.

-- Steve Prokopy
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Readers Talkback
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  • Dec. 28, 2012, 1:37 a.m. CST

    an anti-fracking film...financed by OPEC and the UAE

    by Boofalicious Washington

    No conflict of interest there, I'm sure. Fuck these greedy oil pigs.

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 1:38 a.m. CST

    sounds a bit Local Hero-y at the start

    by IWasInJuniorHighDickhead

    i'm always there for a Van Sant, even if he's only good half the time.

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 2:10 a.m. CST

    Matt Damon is the consummate useful idiot

    by eveelcapitalist

    He co-writes and stars in an issues movie taking a stand against fracking funded by a country (United Arab Emirates) with a vested interest in opposing said practice, gets called out on it and now he's going around whining about the unfairness of it all? You really are a little girl, aren't you, Damon.

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 4:57 a.m. CST

    re: "One of my favorite supporting players is Lucas Black"

    by buggerbugger

    I always thought he'd become a bigger name than he's managed so far. I remember watching him play little Caleb in 'American Gothic' and thinking he'd go far. How does this guy go relatively nowhere while non-acting planks like Channing Tatum become household names?

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 5:01 a.m. CST

    Damon turned down Bourne for THIS?

    by Cash907

    Useful idiot? Try Complete Fucking Idiot. And there's nothing wrong with fracking. Ask North Dakota how much trouble fracking has given them. What's their unemployment sitting at right now... 3%? Ooooo that evil, evil fracking, keeping people employed and lowering the cost of petroleum products.

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 6:26 a.m. CST

    Motherfucker, he stoled my name, he did!

    by Gus Van Rant

    Chief Redcock is the nut sack of society, Ban him, ban him to hell!

  • told truth not pushed a stupid and leftist agenda; a harnmful one at that... I'd really like to know why the modern Liberal is so against free enterprise, a booming economy and good jobs and why they are so weak and dependant and obsessed with the government solving EVERY THING? There realyl is no evidence of it working efficently. DO they not believe enough in themselves and their fellow man to pursue happiness at their own chosen speed. Why does everyone get labeled and turned into a charity case? South Dakota is doing great- wish that would spread all over.

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 8:40 a.m. CST

    A clean and useful way to get oil? NO!

    by Dan

    haha.. Hollywood idiots never fail... take extreme incidents and think its the norm.

  • Ugh. He really is retarded. Delusional in the worst way, fairy-dust, pixieland moron. Glad I never gave a shit awful the Bourne flicks! FUCK this film as it's supported by two of the worst entities on the planet.

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 8:53 a.m. CST

    I'm all for the little guy winning, but don

    by Dan

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 8:53 a.m. CST

    RE: zodlovesmaude

    by Sigmar25

    You nailed it. Actually I'm really impressed by all the current comments - where are all the spoon-fed liberals rants? Wait - why am i complaining?? :)

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 8:53 a.m. CST

    but don't lie about it...

    by Dan

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 9:08 a.m. CST

    The best part about this Talkback = Gus Van Rant

    by Mr. Nice Gaius


  • Dec. 28, 2012, 9:53 a.m. CST

    oh, yes, "the ground dies" and "water on fire"

    by Detached

    who in the world is gullible enough to believe this?? talk about "shaking my head"... wow.

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 10:40 a.m. CST

    This movie is ruined by it's unnecessary twist at the end

    by elecam

  • And the "twist" at the end just makes you groan.

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 12:02 p.m. CST

    Frack this Matt Damon and your pals at the Film Actors Guild

    by Marc Cerasini

    Let's not frack. Never mind there's no proof of danger. Isn't it better to live in poverty, to pay for Arab oil, to fight endless wars in the cat box that is the Middle East than to harvest oil and gas ourselves. Fucking stupid assholes.

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 12:52 p.m. CST

    Is the documentary 'Gasland' also propaganda? Special f/x?

    by Darth Macchio

    Cause some of you said it's a lie that you can light a tap on fire in areas adversely affected by fracking and yet it's demonstrated numerous times in that movie. I guess it could all be lies. OPEC lies. OPEC special effects. Maybe we're not even here. Maybe there's no such thing as human beings. Maybe this is all someone else's dream. The truth, ironically, is far more simple yet convoluted than most of you would be willing to admit (that includes me by the way). I see it simply... Fracking can be harmless in the short run and it can be detrimental in the short run. Overall long terms effects don't seem to be overtly detrimental from what I've heard (not sure if there's any evidence or not but no one should just take someone's word for it - especially if it backs up your preconceived viewpoint). yet I know certain regions have had terrible short and long term effects from fracking. But that's not acceptable is it? It HAS to be lies right? It's all or nothing, right? It's not about issues. It's about TEAMS. This is MY team and unless you're on my team, you're wrong. Utterly. Right? And since business interests that are blatantly and hypocritically corrupt made this movie - it obviously precludes any remote possibility or potential that fracking could be anything other than the perfectly safe and fully vetted energy goldmine the natural gas enthusiasts proclaim. However, like oil, natural gas can be obtained and transported safely. It's just that the companies who obtain and transport it don't want to spend the time or money to be safe. It's why we'll go decades without an oil spill and then have a catastrophe. Sometimes it's planning ahead, taking responsibility, and having a larger interest beyond the narrow pursuit of absolute profit. its why certain regions have suffered no apparent ill-effects from fracking and yet others have to have clean water trucked in because their ground water is poisonous. But humans seem to be growing less capable of nuance - that oil production can be good and bad depending on how its done and that we should stop the bad and help the good. Same for fracking. Of course...there's a limit to natural gas not unlike there is for oil...and while burning natural gas is dramatically cleaner than coal and oil, it's certainly a valid and viable transition from oil based energy to whatever mainstream form replaces it. And, we should also be working towards a method of obtaining energy that would be perfectly ecological and also absurdly abundant (numerous forms with the grail being room temp fusion) - my concern is that developing cheap and ecologically clean energy would kill the energy industry of planet earth and these guys, all of them, have lots of money and influence on the future of energy production. what is a 100mpg car existed and the auto makers managed to stop it cause it would kill their profit margin? why trust or distrust a corporation without investigation? put your complete faith in them at your and your family's peril. most people seem to beg for an 'out' to not worry about this. OPEC funding this movie is clearly an out and it should rub egg/dirt in damon's face given how outspoken he can be on these things...but it doesn't mean fracking is the safe and sound answer you may wish it to be. certainly not simply because assholes bankrolled this movie.

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 1:28 p.m. CST

    darth ...

    by HoraceSkinner

    Fuck aicn forget an "edit" button Just limit darth's post to ten pages Write a book about it. Blog about it. Put it on your Facebook. Ad a link in your aicn posts. I agree most of thus "hsrmful environment killing stuff" is sometimes fine and sometimes awful. When did we stop taking things on a case by case basis ? When politics became involved

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 1:31 p.m. CST

    sigmar25 - Merry Christmas, indeed!

    by Dan

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 1:43 p.m. CST

    I love to Frack

    by Dan

    Kissing up to the Arabs needs to end now. As Damon put it so succintly in Syriana- "You know what the business community thinks of you? They think that a hundred years ago you were living in tents out here in the desert chopping each other's heads off and that's where you'll be in another hundred years, so, yes, on behalf of my firm I accept your money."

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 1:44 p.m. CST

    This movie sounds like a bunch of feltercarb!

    by Dan

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 1:49 p.m. CST

    ricar ... excellent point

    by HoraceSkinner

    As someone posted above, Gus is.good, about half the time. Ok maybe 1/3. His fascination of young teen boys is only fascination of young kids dying, or being in peril. Gus van sant. Gets away with ultra violence homophobia bad filmmaking et all just because he mashed one good film every five years. Or ten. And how.he didn't catch flack for elephant ill never know. Probably because next to no one saw it. Kid from red lake high though.

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 1:50 p.m. CST

    you got me there horace...verbosity is a minor curse of mine

    by Darth Macchio

    i do try to separate out the sentences/paragraphs so its not painful to read or, worse, instilling no desire to read my stuff at all in my fellow aicn'ers (but thanks for reading natch!)

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 2:58 p.m. CST

    darth ...

    by HoraceSkinner

    I did read it all. For what its worth At least its not hate speech masqurading as satire Which is common on thus site. Hell its common on all sites today. With all this sites flaws i find more insightful posts as well as interestingly entertainingly absurd posts here than anywhere else. Maybe its my retarded sense of humor. And foxx suxx

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 3:01 p.m. CST

    Rated R?!

    by fsugino

    Okay, I just saw this at the theater. Why does this merit an R rating? Language?! There's no violence (aside from one punch), no sex, no nudity, just a few four letter words... nothing that justifies an R.

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 3:20 p.m. CST

    Whatever the 'message', this is a TV movie

    by Laserhead

    Plays and is staged like a lifetime TV movie. Yawn-inducing ineffectiveness and thin material combine to make you constantly ask the question, "Who gives a shit?"

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 3:20 p.m. CST


    by Laserhead

    You say 'fuck' more than once, you've got an R.

  • Dec. 28, 2012, 3:56 p.m. CST

    Less than that...if the word 'fuck' refers overtly to sex - rated R

    by Darth Macchio

    It's actually absurdly arbitrary, the rating system in the states. so much so that it can actively harm a film's bottom line or result in passive censorship to hopefully ensure a wider audience. there was an entire doco on this not that long ago. i think you can say 'fuck' once, maybe twice before you get pinged as R. but you can't say it even once if it refers to the actual act of sex. so 'fuck you' is fine. 'fuck off', etc. but 'damn, that dude is fucking a camel!' is not. its why willis couldn't say 'yipee-ki-yay mother fucker' in DH4 because it refers to sex with one's mother.

  • Dec. 29, 2012, 7:56 a.m. CST

    Fracking - LOL

    by SunTzu77

  • Dec. 29, 2012, 9:14 a.m. CST

    For the record its 'frakk' and 'felgercarb'

    by tangcameo

    And you call yourselves geeks. *shakes head* ;-)

  • Dec. 29, 2012, 10:18 a.m. CST

    @suntzu77- good link. thanks for posting.

    by Detached

  • Dec. 29, 2012, 11:23 a.m. CST

    RIP Gerry Anderson

    by Seph_J