Film focuses less on fracking, more on classic struggle

6. ledna 2013 v 8:46
Small-town America, a mythical place that is seldom-seen nowadays - in movies or real life - is the star of the likable and altogether entertaining "Promised Land."

The best thing about the film is the weatherworn look of the hard-working folk who are pitted against the present economic malaise and an invading corporation that wants to buy up their town.

Before you immediately write off the corporation as a fiendish villain, the townspeople will come forward to let you know that, for good or bad, they need the money. This is America in 2013 - a land more economically desperate than it wants to admit and, in the end, perhaps quite willing to sell off moral values for free handouts.

Co-written by and starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski, "Promised Land" would seem, sight unseen, to be one of those muck-racking environmentalist sermons in the vein of "Erin Brockovich." It surprises, though, by attempting a more balanced debate.

Damon plays the hireling of Global, a $9 billion company that moves in on rural towns and buys drilling rights. His perennial youthful appearance and seeming work in favor of his approach to the role. Steve, Damon's character, actually believes he is bringing a blessing to the townspeople.

Some of them have been on their land for more than 150 years and through several generations. Now, they face losing their heritage. They tend not to really care about the potential dangers of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the process used to extract natural gas from the earth, which may harm the area's water supply.

Concern about the movie's intentions has been registered by the natural gas industry. It points out that the film was partially financed by investors from the United Arab Emirates, a country that would stand to profit from the reduced mining of America's natural gas supply.

"Promised Land," though, is no more about fracking than "The Master" is about Scientology or "Lawrence of Arabia" is about the desert. It is a plot device to explore small-town American hypocrisy.

To underscore how superfluous the "issue" is, the script once centered on wind turbines rather than hydraulic fracturing.

Issues aside, Damon effectively suggests an ambitious young man who believes in his mission. He is backed by his savvy superior, played with a "Fargo" kind of humor by Frances McDormand. She's lively and seemingly sure of herself and her purpose.

Things begin to go wrong for Damon when the townspeople question the company and its money. They are led by a charismatic green-type protestor, played by John Krasinski,and a wise old school teacher, played by the ever-reliable Hal Holbrook.

Krasinski's character seems to have a closer tie to rural folk, and not only woos the townspeople but also tries to win the sassy local schoolteacher, played by Rosemarie DeWitt.

The two guys compete for the girl and the minds of the townspeople as some degree of mild suspense builds in this Gus Van Sant film.

The situation smacks of dozens of classic films in which outsiders come in to take advantage of the locals. We think of Elia Kazan's "Wild River." This film is not in their league, but it nonetheless has something meaningful to debate - which is rare in many current films.
 

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