The Josh Fox anti fracking documentary Gasland showed just how devastating the process of deep fracturing can be on the small communities it targets. Large amounts of water and air are punched into the fragile natural gas deposits under much of the USA so it may be gotten to the surface and sold. Often with dire consequences for the farmland and waterways surrounding them. Towns of dying industries, drawn to the money offered by companies such as the one Matt Damon works for in Gus Van Sant’s latest have become an unavoidable topic in the rural backwaters of which both Damon and Van Sant are so fond of.
Damon’s Steve Butler and Frances McDormand’s Sue Thomason are pitted against the eye-rollingly named eco warrior and fracking victim Dustin Noble (John Krasinski, also co-writing with Damon) who arrives on the scene of their latest deal to spread the word and shut down the sale of the towns land to the billion dollar company. A head to head which sees the two men vying for the affection of the same woman (Rosemarie DeWitt) and generally gritting their teeth at each other. The corporation vs the little guy is a favorite staple of recent Hollywood and Promised Land is a fair effort and an entertaining film.
Van Sant shoots middle America with the same panache we’re used to by now and turns in a film politically focused and far closer to Milk or Good Will Hunting than his more experimental Alan Clarke/Bela Tarr homages, Elephant or Gerry. The principles are wonderful, Damon especially as the charming hotshot sales man. His often hilarious face offs with Krasinski are the films strongest moments and although McDormand isn’t given much to get her teeth into she is sweet and often sad in her role, blinded by her “it’s just a job” attitude.
But as Promised Land progresses and as its obligatory twists and finale loom it becomes clear that Damon and Krasinski’s anger extends beyond the fracking debate and the general anti corporate standpoint eventually dilutes a well shot and well acted film, turning the anger into something ultimately toothless but admirably wise.