Rated: R for language. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: December 28, 2012 Released by: Focus Features
A well-made and intended message-minded ecological tale from Gus VanSant lacks the noticeable impact of an earlier collaboration with star and co-writer (here) Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting.
Promised Land is a well-intended crisis-of-conscience that doesn't go on a "fracking" crusade while not nearly reaching the dramatic heights of the Steven Soderbergh/Julia Roberts drama Erin Brockovich.
What will be embraced most by those drawn to the ramifications and issues of its subject matter, the film still boasts a creditable cast, including co-writer John Krasinski (from a story by Dave Eggers who collaborated with The Office actor in Away We Go), as well as Frances McDormand (Moonrise Kingdom), Rosemarie DeWitt, and the venerable Hal Holbrook.
The original screenplay by Damon and Krasinski involves Damon's Steve Butler, a rising corporate salesman, sent to economically depressed Pennsylvania farming town of McKinley with partner Sue Thomason (McDormand, whose trademark sardonic flippancy is well intact). The bright Global executives need to secure the rights to drill on the citizens' land for natural gas, insisting that it's a win-win situation.
In the gentle, sympathetic presentation by the talented VanSant (Finding Forrester, Restless) the professional representatives predictably are met with opposition from retired scientist and well-liked schoolteacher (Holbrook) who wants more community awareness. Especially when Krasinski's environmental lobbying meddler Dustin Noble arrives and takes bribes to help mount a campaign against the evil that Butler is advocating.
DeWitt is fine as Alice, another school teacher who provides romantic tension for Butler and Noble, since this isn't a piece of nonfiction. Krasinski does his best to spice up the conflict when it comes to human and business interests while Damon tries to add a little moral complexity to the role.
Yet, in Promised Land the melodrama isn't all that promising as the narrative and filmmaking doesn't display much flair perhaps because there wasn't any rich material to maybe have the stakes feel more big-time. Even in its elemental, amiable stylings with the production team skillfully evoking a pristine, pastoral beauty (shot in Avonsmore, Pa.) the authenticity of its identifiable thematic concerns doesn't poignantly register like Brockovich so winningly did with Roberts and her committed costars like Albert Finney and Marg Helgenberger.