Movies: Promised Land

Hydraulic fracturing is a process by which natural gas can be removed from the rocks where it resides underground. Known as “fracking,” the process is a cause of worry to environmentalists and a potential source of wealth to many who own the land on top of the deposits. That, in brief, is what Promised Land is about.

Sue (Frances McDormand) and Steve (Matt Damon) look over the land they hope to lease for fracking.
Photo: Scott Green/Focus Features

The screenplay by Matt Damon and John Krasinski explores the controversy when an energy company comes to a small, dying, midwest farm community to lease land for fracking from the residents.

The energy company is represented by Steve Butler (Damon) and his co-salesperson Sue (Frances McDormand). At a town meeting about the potential of fracking in the community, high school science teacher Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook) speaks out against the idea. But the very likable Butler (“I’m not a bad guy”) appears to have them convinced.

When it seems Steve and Sue are winning over the townsfolk, Dustin Noble (Krasinski) sweeps in. He shows photos of how his family’s farm was ruined by fracking, as was the community where it was located.

The back-and-forth between the two sides of the debate and a twist at the end holds the attention throughout. Director Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting,) Damon and Krasinski have crafted a movie that presents each side and the conflicts involved in the decision to allow or ban fracking. It is definitely a “message” movie, but it doesn’t hit you on the head with its message. This is probably due in great part to the fact that the cast is eminently likable.

Because of the pleasant cast and the softness of the message delivery, Promised Land is a pleasant movie. The audience may well learn a thing or two about the fracking controversy and, because it doesn’t preach, the movie may make people think. That is not a bad thing.