By Gary Murray

Starring Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt and Hal Holbrook

Written by Matt Damon and John Krasinski

Directed by Gus Van Sant

Running time 120 min

MPAA Rating—R

Selig Film Rating—Forget it!


Matt Damon has always been considered one of the more intelligent members of young Hollywood.  Since he broke on the scene with Good Will Hunting, the actor has made some impressive films such as Saving Private Ryan, Dogma, True Grit and both the Ocean’s series and the Bourne series.  His latest is a push for Oscar gold and is titled Promised Land.

The story of Promised Land is of a man Steve Butler (Matt Damon).  He buys the mineral rights from farmers for a giant gas company.  He is from a small town that was devastated by a big company moving away and believes that he is doing the right thing by snapping up leases.  Steve truly believes in the cause. 

But, he is also a pitiless business man who knows how to strike a deal that is favorable to his company.  He makes no promises but jangles the idea of millions being reaped under their feet, playing the lust for coin against better judgment.  Being good at his job will set Steve up for a promotion with the company.

Sue (Frances McDormand) is his partner and she just sees this as a job.  She is more concerned with her son playing baseball down in Houston.  She has spent too many miles on the road and away from her family.  She has seen it all and just wants to go home.

At the meeting announcing the proposed exploratory drilling, the local science teacher (Hal Holbrook) speaks up against the proposed drilling.  He thinks that needs to be more study on the environmental impact the drilling will have on the community.  There are many who listen to him.

Just as if things couldn’t get worse for Steve, an environmental advocate (John Krasinski) shows up on the scene.  He uses every trick in the book to convince the locals that Steve is basically the devil.  He is just a ruthless as Steve, using every tactic in the book against the gas company.  The last element thrown into the mix is a local girl (Rosemarie DeWitt) who has a swath of land and an interest in saving her community.  Both of the young men show more than a passing eye on the lovely young lady.  Anybody who has seen a movie knows where all of this is going to end-up.  The big surprise twist isn’t that much of a surprise or a twist.

Gus Van Sant is the director who brought the world both Milk and Good Will Hunting, both films that generated some Oscar buzz.  This film will probably do the same for that crowd.  But, it is going to be remembered like many other overwrought Oscar contenders, a film that has the subtly of a sledge-hammer against the forehead.  While he photographs the farm lands with a certain classic touch, he takes the major themes of the work and shoves it down the audiences’ throat.  We get the political agenda—no need to force it. 

Matt Damon knows his way around the material he writes for himself but one feels that his heart is not in the work.  One almost thinks that he doesn’t believe in the story that he co-wrote.  At times there is this hapless mugging on his face where he is just going through the motions without any character depth.

The biggest surprise of Promised Land is John Krasinski.  The television actor from The Office has been trying to break into features in the last few years but this is a major departure for the young thespian.  He is the opposite side of the coin from Matt Damon’s character but still just as determined.  It is a cleaver and different take for the performer.

In the final analysis, Promised Land is not a movie, it is a political statement disguised as entertainment.  Even people in the audience who believed in the cause found the flick overwrought and heavy-handed.  It is a message, not a movie.   There are so many better choices this holiday season, so I’d skip this one.


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