Promised Land


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.


Daniel Fogarty


34 thoughts on “Promised Land

  1. Too heavy-handed for my taste, but still an alright movie. Just don’t pay attention to the message that they continue to shove down your throat and then, maybe, you’ll be fine. Good review bud.

  2. Liked this movie. Good acting, a little heavy handed but I loved the plot twist towards the end. One very good thing about this is NOW I understand what fracking is. But I noticed when certain people talked, the music was noticable to the point of manipulating the audience (much like the characters in the movie). But then again, the music was from Danny Elfman, one of my 2 favorite film composers.

    • Saw the “twist” coming way in advance. Not sure what tipped it, but I guessed.

      Glad at least it did get the cracking concept across, that’s a commendable thing.

      Wasn’t enough to save it for me though….

  3. Unfortunately, Hollywood fully subscribes to this quote:

    “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.
    H. L. Mencken
    US editor (1880 – 1956)”

    So they do pander to the lowest common denominator. So while people with enough mental capacity to, say, walk and breathe at the same time may feel insulted by the dumbing down of important messages in movies, Hollywood is content that they may be reaching that portion of the populace who thinks they get actual information for Faux News.

  4. Very interesting premise for a movie. Per some above comments, filmhipster may have stumbled onto the film that really talks about this issue. I just youtubed Shira Lazars CBS interview talking about his family being offerred $100K from energy co. to frack promising clouds and rainbows vs. EPA radically different stories online. Upshot is 34 states have had contamination issues from his research in actually talking with farmers and investigating real events. Should we all be investigating rainwater harvesting for drinking water now? I don’t know. A VERY interesting topic. Too bad this one is SO schmaltzy and sentimental as FMR highlights [ and there’s no ‘orse with the schmaltz 😉 ]. Nice post.

    • LOL at the ‘orse referrence, but have no fear. “War ‘Orse” is still the schmaltziest film in FMR history by far, this pales in comparison. LOL

      Hey. It’s an important issue, it really is. Its SO sad that big business doesn’t give a shit… they’d literally dump poison on people if there was a dollar to be made. So sad. Seriously.

      So in that regard, I do praise the film for trying to highlight an issue. I hope it shines a light to whatever extent it can.

      But as a movie… I cant really give it a pass. 😦

  5. I think you’re right that most folks already know about fracking these days, although I think they may be surprised at how common something like the “evil surprise” in the third act occurs in corporate america.

    Oddly, my favorite scenes were the ones where Damon, McDormand or Krasinsky were acting the most evil, while all the touchy-feely stuff that the movie wanted us to “value” is where it kind of fell flat for me.

    • Yeahhhhhhh I can see some underhanded stuff, but I thought the third act twist might be pushing it.

      The movie definitely fell flat for me during the “Value” parts, but I didnt care for the rest of it that much either. LOL. I guess I liked Damon’s rants the best. 😀

  6. Had high hopes for this one. Always been a fan of Matt Damon, even in ‘issues’ movies like Syriana and, to a lesser extent The Imformant! Gus Van Sant can infuriate me (Last Days) as much as he can move me (Milk). Think I’ll check it out anyways, but nice review.

    • You may get more mileage out of it than I did, of course….

      I like Damon, too. There’s even a scene or two here where he’s really great. Certainly not as if he or anyone else mailed it in.

      I just didn’t care for it enough to recommend it highly. Think it’s at 50% or so on Rotten Tomatoes, too. 😦

    • I’m halfway through it now… Football playoffs kind of got in the way. LOL.

      Manwhile, give it a shot on home video or something, and you wont feel too let down or anything. It had its moments, it wasnt a complete waste.

  7. I’m not a bit surprised her. You could sense the sermonizing in the trailer. Was gonna see. Now I’m gonna skip it. It looks ridiculously predicable and I don’t need to be force-fed an in-your-face environment message from that crew when I go to the movies.

    • It wasn’t the worst example of heavy handedness I’ve ever come across… It wasn’t, say, “Big Miracle” bad or anything. But it was obvious they had an agenda.

      I’m with you though, I prefer my movies to entertain, and leave the enlightening and educating to the documentaries… which do a better job of it anyways.

      • You know, I have no problem with a movie having a message. But good filmmakers can deliver than message in good and entertaining ways. Sounds like this one couldn’t.

      • No, not really. If you took the message out, there wasn’t much to this. It was a kind of standard and routine “Change of heart” story. 😦 I didnt enjoy it all too much. Decent enough, dont get me wrong, its no risk to make anyone’s “Worst Of” lists…

  8. Hi, Fogs and company:

    Not a huge Matt Damon fan to begin with. And Hollywood really hasn’t had a great industry stopping film since ‘The China Syndrome’. So it doesn’t surprise me that ‘Promised Land’ isn’t faring well.

    “Subtle” isn’t something Hollywood does well to begin with.

      • Hi, Fogs:

        I liked him early on in “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. Where he couldn’t quite hide the creepiness behind his constant smile. He seems a little too packaged by Hollywood to me. Given opportunities that other contemporary actors have to wait years for.

        Though I do give him high props for turning over the later direction of ‘Promised Land’ over to Gus Van Sant. So he could spend more time with
        his wife and kids.

  9. I actually read a very negative review on this one on Friday and sounds like you have the same criticism, Fogs. I like Hal Holbrook but sounds like even he couldn’t save this film.

    • Nah, he’s not in it taht much, either. Only has two or three scenes.

      I mean, it’s not that bad per se… but I wouldnt recommend hitting it in theatres to people. Especially at this time of year, when there’s still so many excellent offerings out there from the holidays…

  10. Pingback: Promised Land: Rebel With an Obvious Cause | Rorschach Reviews

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