A pair of corporate representatives, Steve Butler (Matt Damon) and Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand), arrive in a struggling farming community, intending to sell the locals on the idea of drilling for natural gas on their land. Initially, the local folks embrace the idea....all but a respected teacher, Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook). Others join in his objections, including environmental activist Dustin (John Krasinski) and local teacher Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt), who help rally the community against the drilling.
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Here's what the critics are saying:
Director Gus Van Sant has the challenging task of taking the divisive, high-tech practice of fracking and trying to make it not just human but cinematic. Working from a script by co-stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski, based on a story by Dave Eggers, he succeeds in fits and starts. The impoverished small town that's the tale's setting, a place in need of the kind of economic rejuvenation that extracting natural gas could provide, is full of folksy folks whose interactions with the main characters don't always ring true. “Promised Land” has its heart on its sleeve and its pro-environment message is quite clear, but it's in the looser and more ambiguous places that the film actually works.--Christy Lemire, Associated Press
A social-issue drama handled in a very human way, “Promised Land” presents its environmental concerns in a clear, upfront manner but hits some narrative and character bumps in the second half that weaken the impact of this fundamentally gentle, sympathetic work. Collaborating on a screenplay for director Gus Van Sant for the third time, after “Good Will Hunting” and “Gerry,” Matt Damon stars as a natural gas company rep who encounters more resistance than he bargained for when trying to buy up drilling rights on struggling farmers’ land. This is something of a Frank Capra story preoccupied with the idea of what the United States used to be or is supposed to be, but the film isn’t quite rich or full-bodied enough to entirely pay off. Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
Promised Land, which comes out nationwide January 4, follows Steve Butler and Sue Thomason (played by Damon and the always amazing Frances McDormand), two city slickers who come into the rural town of McKinley to buy up drilling rights for their company. At first, the locals seem to bite, but then at a town meeting a curmudgeonly schoolteacher confronts them over what he deems misleading practices.
All going as planned, right? Not exactly: Just as you think you know the way this movie is going to unfold, environmental activist and friendly bro Dustin Noble (played by our NYLON Guys cover star John Krasinski) shows up in town. And the thing is, though you're supposed to like this anti-fracking activist…you don't.
And that's just the beginning of the surprising twists and turns this film makes. Does it ever convince me that fracking is a necessary evil or the key to revitalizing rural America? No--but it also made me question my assumptions about who the good and bad guys are in this debate. And for the final 20 minutes alone, it's worth the price of admission. Rebecca Willa Davis, Nylon Magazine
One of several ways this well-meaning picture falls short is in trying to sell a personal-salvation story as a salve to the conundrum it presents. As it unfolds on screen, it doesn't wash. When Damon's character jokes with DeWitt's Alice because despite the fact that she's got 80 acres of land, all she's growing is in a small garden in her yard, she tells him that the garden is for the benefit of her students. How so, Butler asks. "I'm teaching them how to take care of something," Alice replies, and as good and unaffected as Damon and DeWitt are in their roles, both of them might as well be wearing neon signs reading "FORESHADOWING" above their brows. And while the movie is potentially bracing in its assertion, in the tradition of such classic paranoid thrillers as "The Parallax View," that the lengths that a corporation will go to get its way can be sufficiently extreme to be almost beyond our ken, the demonstration of this assertion is more than a little on the pat side. Glenn Kenny, MSN Movies
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