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Cinema Signal: This oil company drama isn't exciting enough for prime time, but the actors give it some merit. MOBILE: |
. "Promised Land"

About the best thing that can be said about this well-meaning but thinly plotted drama is that it points out (and, points out) that some tradeoffs are hard to make. And, that which seems good carries with it much that isn't. And, that you have to read the fine print and consider life-changing decisions very carefully.

The decisions to be made in this representative rural farm community is whether to take a deal by a major-size oil company to trade drilling rights on their farmland in exchange for the royalties they'll make off the process of fracking, a controversial technique with health risks for people and animals. We're talking money these farmers have never seen nor dreamt of. But, they're farmers, and most of their properties have been passed on to them through their generations. Some things are more important than money. Right? Well, that's the question this film poses.

It was written by actor-ecologist Matt Damon who stars in it as Global Corp's new hire, Steve Butler, chosen to communicate with the modest people because of his background as a farming son who left his Iowa home for the big city. This serves the filmmakers' intention to uncover some of the human know-how behind a big company's resources and reserves of psychological skill to attain their goal. Butler is accompanied by Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) to assist in the snow job that Damon delivers with all the modesty and sanctity of a guy who seems really genuine. His line to the community, whether as a public event or one-on-one, is as heartfelt as a Mother Teresa trainee as he reasons out the opportunities he's bringing them. In the end, for all his conviction, he's a company man.

But, the problem, besides the running time, is a theme that belabors its message. Conflict comes in the form of Dustin Noble (John Krasinski), an ecologist who is dynamic, brazen and offensive. He's so good at what he does you'd qualify him for the status of super-eco-man, which means enough excess to put a strain on credibility.

Rosemarie DeWitt is sensually adept as Alice, the romance interest; and Hal Holbrook is a local teacher with enough degrees to anchor an oil rig. He's the smart guy in town who disproves all of Steve's efforts at closing the company's deals.

It's a well-meaning work, directed by Gus Van Sant with technical savvy. But, no matter how softly engaging Damon's salesmanship is, the effect is too much over too little. It's overwritten, characters appear and reappear with nothing new to say or add to the mix. The relationship between Damon and McDormand has all the humor and irony you'd want and, for a while, it seems there's going to be fun to watch these two superb thespians play off each other. But it's based on nothing more than the company's interests and attitude from the community, leaving just about nothing for an audience to root for. It grows weary. The only escape is the lobby.

P.S. Concerning the basic argument made in this film, consider the one being made by Aaron Task for the Daily Ticker as recently as December 12th, 2012, titled: "Fracking: It's Good for the Economy.AND the Environment."

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                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  
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