January 10, 2013

'Promised Land' a lighthearted environmental drama

Making a statement and making a movie are not necessarily compatible goals.

The anti-fracking film “Promised Land” wobbles somewhat uncomfortably on the line between message and entertainment, but makes it to the finish mostly intact.

Co-written by and co-starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski (“The Office”), who visited Malone in June 2011 to do research for the film, it’s a relatively lighthearted environmental drama that’s more character study than heavy-handed lesson. 

“Promised Land” ends up where you probably expect it to, but it also has a surprise or two along the way.

Damon plays Steve Butler, who should be the film’s bad man. He’s the man who swoops in to rural towns and gets the financially struggling natives to sign away their property, allowing the natural-gas company to pour toxic cocktails into the soil and drill baby drill.

Steve, however, is an entirely likable everyman, an Iowa farm boy who relates to the poor townsfolk and seems to feel he’s doing more good than harm — though empathy doesn’t keep him from bargaining for the best deal for his company.

Even his partner Sue (Frances McDormand) is sympathetic, wanting nothing more than to provide for her family. Damon and McDormand spar good-naturedly and mesh extremely well, without even a hint of sexual tension.

Steve and Sue are sent to a poor Pennsylvania community to clear the way for a new drilling operation. They hit a stumbling block, however, when a local science teacher (Hal Holbrook) puts up a fuss, and things get even more difficult when a charismatic young environmentalist (Krasinki) shows up.

Directed by Gus Van Sant, “Promised Land” isn’t particularly hard-hitting. The characters are interesting and enjoyable, but the film takes some easy ways out — and a would-be romantic triangle with vivacious Rosemarie Dewitt’s pretty teacher is merely an afterthought.

There’s a fair amount of good in the film, too, though. Enough to make it watchable, if not as important as it aims to be.

Rental Recommendation: Julia Roberts was in her full glory, fighting injustice in “Erin Brockovich.” Grade: A-

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"Promised Land"

Grade: B-

Starring: Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand

Rated: R (for language)

Running time: 106 minutes

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