The makers of Promised Land want you to hate fracking, and they aren't going to let little things like a script, acting or the filmmaking acumen of Gus Van Sant (taking the day off) get in the way. Steve (Matt Damon) and Sue (Frances McDormand) are representatives of an energy firm sent by their big, bad corporate minders to buy up the mineral rights in a small backwoods town populated by the sort of prideful but vulnerable hicks that Hollywood imagines are ripe for such plucking.
Space doesn't afford a discussion about the pros and cons of hydraulic fracturing (I rather side with the filmmakers). But it's hard to achieve high-minded aims using this single-minded, half-baked screenplay penned by Damon (who once co-wrote something called Good Will Hunting) and John Krasinski (not a typo). We're told Steve and Sue are savvy, flannel-clad operators, but they're totally unprepared for the predictable obstructions of a meddlesome environmentalist (Krasinski) and a cantankerous fogey (Hal Holbrook). And despite the fact that a seemingly vast majority of property owners signs away the farm or the land below the singlewide, it all somehow comes down to the Big Vote by townsfolk in a high school gym who will decide, well, I dunno. Whether fracking is bad? Whether property owners have the right to control their own land? Why Steve cares what the resident hot schoolteacher (Rosemary DeWitt) thinks of him? Why Matt Damon has started making dreary, uninteresting movies?
This article appeared in print with the headline "Halcyon past, scary present."