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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Promised Land Movie Review

Gus Van Sant went through a tiresome phase of experimental say-nothing-but-act-profound filmmaking, which included "Elephant," "Gerry" and "Last Days." Thankfully he is done with all that and is back to actually making movies. "Milk" received high praise in 2008 and now comes "Promised Land," one of the last releases of the year, hoping to be a dark horse for awards season.

It's a simple tale, almost like a fable. While it's obviously liberal at the core - Dave Eggers concocted the story while Matt Damon and John Krasinski wrote it, if that's a hint - it doesn't exist just to pound a message home. There are fleshed-out characters here and excellent cinematography, which gives a certain glow to small-town farming life.

Steve (Matt Damon) is a corporate salesman for Global, a giant organization that sends him and his sassy coworker, Sue (Frances McDormand), to try and get drilling rights to struggling properties. "Promised Land" is about their time in McKinley, Pa. "You could be a millionaire," says Steve to a member of the community. They're hoping to bring natural gas to the area via fracking, a risky form of industrial gas drilling, but they need a majority vote.

Their plan is complicated when Dustin (John Krasinski), an environmentalist with not-such-nice things to say about fracking, blows into town. He warns the farmers about the dangers associated with this practice, showing pictures of dead cows and even deader land. He's also charming and playful, singing karaoke with gusto and befriending the locals. Steve is more serious and profit driven, and he doesn't appreciate being one-upped by some smiley eco guy. He has a big sale to make.

It's great fun watching Damon and Krasinski lock horns in "Promised Land." You can tell they're really enjoying their time together and that this movie means something to them. It's especially relevant in this moment of time, when money is an issue for most people and the environment is acting out in atypical ways. "This town, this life, it's dying," says Damon's character at one point, and he may be right, but that is so depressing.

"Promised Land" will appeal to people who already support its politics and are also fans of the actors. Some things aren't what they seem in the movie (there's one particularly interesting twist) and others you know are coming (a big ole redemption speech). It won't alter the course of your life, but this land is worth exploring.

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