Matt Damon is renowned for being an intense, unyielding political activist. When he was announced as the star of a movie about the impact of “fracking” or natural gas extraction on a distressed farming community I saw it easily straying into preachy territory—a cardinal sin for any movie. But director Gus Van Sant keeps the focus on the human drama instead of the charged politics of energy and that is where the movie finds its biggest successes.
The film never forgets, however, that the true villain is not the man who is just doing a job selling natural gas contracts but instead is the evil, shadowy corporation—a point reinforced by the surprising twist in the third act. That third act, however, is incongruous with what has come before and throws a curve that is neither expected nor wanted by the audience.
Fortunately the remainder of the film is a decent personal drama. Damon deals with his nomadic lifestyle by falling in—then back out, then back in—love with a local woman (Rosemary Dewitt). Francis McDormand plays an exasperated mother who tries her best to stay connected with her family despite her lack of proximity.
While the filmmakers want Promised Land to be some sort of morality play and corporate thriller like A Civil Action, Michael Clayton, or Erin Brockovich, it isn’t nearly as sleek or compelling as those stories. Well made and performed, Promised Land lacks a point: If you have a political purpose, don’t obscure it so that it becomes unrecognizable. That only leaves a muddled film that never finds traction.
Recommended If You Like: