Promised Land came out last year, but we just got around to watching it. It's co-written by John Krasinski and Matt Damon, who also star along with Frances McDormand. The story follows a representative of Big Natural Gas, Inc. (okay, "Global Solutions") as he makes a preliminary visit to a farming community to try to convince its residents to lease their land for hydraulic drilling for natural gas ("fracking").
- My first reaction on hearing a description of this movie was that it sounded a little dull and preachy. I wasn't entirely wrong: despite the "twist" at the end (which spoiler etiquette dictates I can't reveal), it followed some pretty well-worn plot tropes and was quite heavy-handed in its message. My main exposure to the whole fracking controversy has been the documentary Gasland, and I haven't really done any research into opposing viewpoints. However, unless the doc is based on pure falsehood, it would certainly seem that fracking is at best a risky technology and at worst an environmental and public health catastrophe and a deliberate exploitation of impoverished families for corporate interests. Still, fictional explorations of ideas like this are always best if they are secondary to great story-telling.
- On the other hand, the protagonist was actually the representative of the "bad guys," and the story of how he got there was pretty compelling. The fact that the farming lifestyle has become unsustainable and dependent on big industries and government handouts is a heart-breaker of which I wasn't fully aware. I did find his big conversion at the end to be a little implausible, though. I can certainly buy that the discovery of unethical practices by your employer might lead you to quit your job, but usually not by way of a beautifully crafted tear-jerker of a speech in front of hundreds of your employer's screwed-over constituents. But it's the movies, after all.
- Speaking of farming, I wish I was more moved by the tradition of farm life and its place in American history and mythos. My grandmother grew up on a farm, so it is part of my heritage, even though I've been a city kid all my life. This movie had a lot of scenes of people talking about their land and how it had been passed down for five generations as well as numerous montages of cows juxtaposed with American flags set to stirring music. I simply don't respond to that, somehow.
- I'm in no way immune to John Krasinski's charms - in fact, I think what he and Jenna Fischer created on The Office with the Jim/Pam romance is one of the reasons the show has become so iconic. He's drily funny and deadpan and charming again in this movie, but - sheesh - is he a one-trick pony. The character might as well have been named Jim. Except that Jim wasn't such a sanctimonious jerk, so I suppose that required a step outside the memory-foam-levels-of-comfort zone.
- This all sounds like I liked the movie a lot less than I did, which was some. I particularly liked Matt Damon's performance, with his customary level of craft and nuance. It really seems like he's due for that big Oscar-winning role one of these days.