'Promised Land': A Folksy Take On Fracking
Promised Land, Gus Van Sant's gentle but knowing natural gas drama, is concerned with the tension between long-term environmental costs and short-term financial gain. Set in small-town Pennsylvania and based on a story by Dave Eggers, the screenplay by co-stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski aims for a moral complexity that pays as much attention to economic reality as social responsibility. Though the film eventually caves to sentiment and stereotype, its alert performances and muted rhythms offer much to enjoy in the interim.
As the advance guard of a major energy conglomerate, newly promoted Steve (Damon) and his astringent partner Sue (Frances McDormand) persuade beleaguered farmers to sell drilling rights to land held by their families for generations. A one-time Iowa farm boy, Steve knows that a flannel work shirt and fake folksy charm can soften the most doubtful mark; he also knows that too much information about the company's gas extraction methods — otherwise known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — can derail his sales pitch.
But Steve, as he keeps telling the locals, isn't a bad guy. He may dispense as many bribes as homilies, but he's a true believer who sees himself more as savior than salesman. To him, natural gas offers salvation from a disappearing way of life and hard cash for landowners who can barely feed their families. And since farms are doomed, those who cling to their agricultural heritage are practicing "delusional self-mythology," an argument that many familiar with the economics of today's farming may see as not entirely far-fetched.
Gliding on Danny Elfman's ethereal score and cinematographer Linus Sandgren's bucolic vistas, Promised Land (unlike Josh Fox's searing 2010 documentary Gasland) isn't a howl of anger against corporate callousness. Channeling its environmental concerns through the character of a quietly eloquent retired scientist (Hal Holbrook), the film maintains a homey, humorous tone that only occasionally crackles with anger or disappointment. Most of the pleasure derives from Damon and McDormand's prickly but pragmatic partnership and, later, Krasinski's breezy cockiness as Dustin Noble, an environmental activist who woos the locals with sob stories and karaoke. Watching Dustin murder Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" in front of a bar full of applauding farmers, Steve visibly deflates.
And this, if anything, is the film's Achilles' heel. Damon may not be entirely comfortable playing the corporate villain (however ambivalent), and he makes Steve surprisingly pouty and easily overwhelmed. Luckily he's surrounded by excellent supporting players, including Rosemarie DeWitt as a local schoolteacher and man magnet, and Titus Welliver as a brooding shopkeeper with modest designs on Sue. By the time we realize we're watching a standard transformation story that's a little cliched and a lot self-serving, Van Sant's steady hand and unobtrusive style have almost convinced us otherwise. (Recommended)
Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
More on Movies
Multimedia | May 25, 2013
YouTube celebrate its 8th birthday with a week full of new comedy videos and a "Big Live Comedy Show". By Emily Eifler
Noise Pop | May 24, 2013
Listen to the newest Noise Pop picks for you and your partner's listening pleasure, featuring Liars, Future Islands, Beach House, Jessie Ware, and The Weeknd. Note: this episode contains adult language and situations.
NPR Film | May 24, 2013
The indie darling returns in a winning collaboration with Noah Baumbach that tracks her developmentally arrested dancer heroine through the transition from protracted adolescence to reluctant adulthood. (Recommended) By Ella Taylor
NPR Film | May 24, 2013
Fast 6 pits Dominic's crew against a wily terrorist in a high-tech battle royale -- but it has a devil of a time explaining why everyone should hop into their cars. By Scott Tobias
The Do List | May 23, 2013
Suzie Racho and David Wiegand scout the Bay Area for things to do this coming weekend and turn up Puerto Rican flavor, a pair of poets, and much more!
One of Keith Carradine's most famous roles in recent years was as Wild Bill Hickok on the HBO TV show Deadwood. But Carradine is also a musician, and it was a song that jump-started his career — and another that drew him to his latest Broadway role.
Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke return for the third in Richard Linklater's loosely peerless Before series, and they've never been more persuasive — nor has the storytelling. (Recommended)
Horror director Rodrigo Gudino grew up Roman Catholic in Mexico, but now he calls Canada his home. He's no longer a practicing Catholic, but he's brought the aesthetics of his childhood into his movies, including his latest, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh.
Are women really being shut out of film criticism? One recent study claims that they're worse off in the online world than they were in print.
Also on KQED.org this week ...
KQED Science Site Relaunches
All of KQED's science and environment content is now aggregated in one place on KQED.org. Find everything from Astronomy to Zebras!
Enter the New "ImageMakers" Screening Room
Enjoy films from present and past seasons of KQED's short independent film series, divided into Animation, Comedy, Drama, and Suspense.