A decent cast wasted on a heavy-handed movie that alternates between schmaltzy sentimentality and broad strokes environmentalist preaching.
Matt Damon stars as Steve Butler, a gas company exec whose job is to travel rural farmlands and convince farmers to sign leases allowing his billion dollar company to frac their land for natural gas.
For those of you who don’t know, fracking is a process by which oil and natural gasses are extracted from underground mineral deposits via a combination of drilling and highly pressurized fluids, which in turn “fracture” the targeted mineral bed, releasing the coveted fossil fuel within. It’s currently a controversial methodology of obtaining fuel. Proponents of fracking point to the massive reserve of fuels right here, in our own country, beneath our very feet. Independence from foreign energy providers and more affordable fuel for the future await. Opponents point to the environmental risks, including groundwater contamination, air pollution from escaping gasses, and the potential for the chemicals involved in the fracking fluid to spill, or rise to the surface, etc.
It’s a complicated issue. And certainly one that I hope we slow our roll on. I obviously wouldn’t trust our modern energy conglomerates to do the right thing if their children’s lives depended on it, but of course, our legislature can’t be counted on to create a cohesive and/or honest regulatory package either. In 2005, we passed the “Energy Policy Act”, which, according to Wikipedia:
“exempted fluids used in the natural gas extraction process of Hydraulic fracturing from protections under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and CERCLA.It created a loophole that exempts companies drilling for natural gas from disclosing the chemicals involved in fracking operations that would normally be required under federal clean water laws. The loophole is commonly known as the “Halliburton loophole” since former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney was reportedly instrumental in its passage.”
Now… I’m not fundamentally opposed to the process, there’s far too much potential gain involved not to pursue it. But at the very least, we should move cautiously and at a bare minimum we should make sure that we can conduct the process in some semblance of a safe fashion. So, as far as I’m concerned, as a citizen, there IS a valid need for heightened awareness and in that regard… I appreciate the effort of this film and what they’re trying to do.
As a Movie Fan, though, I’d appreciate a little less simplicity if they intend to be an informative, instructional film, and a little more entertainment if they don’t. This film kind of uncomfortably straddles the line between both, much to its detriment. It’s not fun or funny enough for me to really recommend it as a piece of entertainment, and yet it’s not educational or balanced enough for me to recommend it highly as some kind of referendum on the issue.
The company involved might as well be called “Cartoonishly Evil and Greedy Soulless Global Energy Company”, and you know it’s bad if I’ve taken to defending billion dollar energy corporations from poor portrayals. Damon and McDormand’s characters ride in to a poor, rural town, offering untold riches to uninformed locals in exchange for signing away their land. Standing in their way are Hal Holbrook as the local science teacher who wants the town to vote on the issue, and John Krasinski as an environmentalist hoping to rile up the locals with the dangers inherent in the process. As the town turns against him and he falls for a local woman (Rosemarie DeWitt), Damon’s character, a former apostle of the process, begins to question himself…
Predictablitly, sentimentality and environmental morality ensue.
It’s always a pleasure to see the great Hal Holbrook onscreen, no matter in what capacity, and McDormand, Krasinski and DeWitt represent adequately in support. Damon is as solid and dependable as ever in the lead, in fact, I think this film has a scene worthy of adding to his career highlight reel with his “That’s %$&# you money” spiel in the bar (for those who have seen it). But he and the rest of the cast can’t overcome the fact that this is a safe, simplistic, preachy environmentalist effort.