By Liz Lopez
When I first heard two of my favorite actors, Matt Damon and John Krasinski are in the new film, Promised Land, this grabbed my attention quickly, but I became even more anxious to view the film when I read that these same two actors wrote the original screenplay based on a story by Dave Eggers (Where the Wild Things, Are Away We Go –2009). Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk) helms the film and the result of this collaboration I found to be very entertaining as a whole, not only a bit here and there. If there is a slight bit of predictability in the script, I found it to be in one of the character’s relationships, but I do not feel it detracts from the film as a whole, as it is part of his transformation in the story. It is great to view the vast array of actors, both those with much shorter acting credits to their name and established, including Frances McDormand whose performance I always enjoy, even if brief.
Making a sale is the name of the game in this film and not everyone is buying the corporate and government’s spiel so quickly, regardless of the need in their personal lives. The economic decline in the small town of McKinley has been difficult on the citizens who have owned land for decades, some from generation to generation. Although this story is not set in Texas, many Texans may understand what the characters in this film may be going through as they are approached by their local governments and corporations for their family property. The building of toll highways during the past decade was not popular with everyone in Texas who owned land in the path of the proposed changes, according to the public hearings and the media coverage along the way. In Promised Land, the use of the property may be for a different reason, but change is not easy for everyone even when it is about our environment.
Steve Butler (Damon) is an experienced and talented corporate salesman, who with his sales partner, Sue Thomason (Academy Award winner McDormand), plan to have an easy and quick job selling their company’s offer for drilling rights to their properties in a rural town. The citizens they think are likely to accept the sales pitch turn out to be a complicated lot, including the respected schoolteacher Frank Yates (Academy Award nominee Hal Holbrook) who has knowledge and views of his own to share with the consummate sales executives at a very public and community-wide meeting. Compounding the issue is a likeable environmental activist, Dustin Noble (Krasinski), who suddenly arrives and complicates all the good will Butler has made, including with another educator, Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt). Butler, once a farm boy in his youth, finds himself at a crossroads in his life, one that Thomason does not experience and proceeds on her own path in the company.
The film’s story has its dramatic scenes and several humorous lines delivered by Damon or Krasinski during the R rated film, but don’t expect to learn what environmental decisions the citizens make in the end when it comes to fracking on their farm property. That will have to be an entirely different film. I enjoyed the fictionalized story of one salesman without feeling I was pushed to make a decision on the environmental issue at hand.