Written by Matt Damon and John Krasinski
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Starring Matt Damon, John Krasinski and Frances McDormand
When I think of the promised land, I think of a metaphoric place where great things come together to form some sort of utopian existence. As that would relate to film, I would think that the notion of actor/writer, Matt Damon, re-teaming with director, Gus Van Sant (GOOD WILL HUNTING), would be solid ground to start on. Throw in talented actresses like Frances McDormand and Rosemarie DeWitt and that ground should prove to be pretty fertile. You can even take a risk on unproven yet charming screen talent, John Krasinski, who collaborates with Damon on the writing duty. All of these elements should provide as close to perfection as possible but PROMISED LAND never delivers on its own promise.
Based on a Dave Eggers story, Damon and Krasinski have written a thoroughly unfocused, unavoidably preachy screenplay. PROMISED LAND attempts to shed some light on the dangers of natural gas drilling, which can provide some small communities with some much needed capital, but at the risk of poisoning their land. Enter a giant corporation, called Global Corp or something equally as banal, to take advantage of the poor unsuspecting and simple folks of middle America, whom Van Sant seems to delight in showing as genuinely clueless. Damon is the face of this corporation (McDormand, his trusty aid). He is supposed to be tops in his field but he does nothing but make stupid mistakes from the moment he arrives in McKinley, the farming town setting that could really be any farming town. How ever did this giant drilling monster get to be so successful with bumbling, contemptuous reps like Damon?
When Damon starts mucking up a deal that was supposed to be an easy close, Krasinski enters as an environmental lobbyist who wants to stop the drilling from happening (and steal Damon’s girl, DeWitt, for no real reason whatsoever, other than to muddy an already messy plot). For the first two thirds of the film, PROMISED LAND plays to middling results, despite its flaws. In the final act though, it completely falls apart. The story shifts its focus to the Damon character from the drilling debate. To be fair, I feel the entire film should have focused on character instead of cause, but to come in at the last minute and make this entire debacle about Damon’s own personal issues with his part in raping America, just felt forced. More so, it felt like Van Sant, along with Damon and Krasinski, didn’t know how to end things. It also felt completely inauthentic and when you’re trying to make a movie about an important issue, you should at the very least remain true to that point.