When I saw the new movie Promised Land I didn’t think it was worth writing about. It was a bit boring, but utterly forgettable, not worth a second thought. But when I saw an advertisement declaring Promised Land to be one of 2012’s best movies I had to speak out. For if this movie does somehow become widely seen it carries a dangerous message that I would like to fight against.
In Promised Land Matt Damon and Frances McDormand portray agents for a natural gas conglomerate. They cruise around a rural town trying to lease the land from its impoverished citizens to dig for natural gas. An elderly science teacher leads a movement against natural gas because their method of extraction called fracking can contaminate the water supply. Next an environmental activist comes into town rabble rousing, further uniting the community against natural gas, but even worse this environmental activist beds the barfly that Matt Damon had eyes for.
At this point the movie is a bit slow, but a pleasant character study. It is ridiculous that Matt Damon’s opponents respect him so much without him doing anything to earn their respect beyond the fact that he is Matt Damon. I was willing to look beyond the lazy storytelling as I was getting a free science lesson, but then comes the shockingly stupid twist that I am about to divulge.
After Matt Damon exposes the environmental activist to the townspeople to be a fraud, we learn the environmental activist was an even bigger fraud. Turns out he was a plant hired by the conglomerate to break the townspeople’s hearts so that they would vote to allow fracking in their town. The moral was intended to be that corporations are heartless Machiavellians, but we’re also left thinking environmentalists are posers and hypocrites, leaving us with nothing to believe in.
This wasn’t the filmmakers intention. They wanted this to be a Mr. Smith Goes To Washington where Matt Damon opens his eyes to integrity and relearns how to be the good person he always was, but the story did not allow him to earn it. Sure he tells the townspeople that the environmental activist was an employee of his natural gas company, but it was not out of any deep rooted conviction, it was so he could get in the pants of the woman the environmental activist already deflowered.
No other director is as hit or miss as Promise Land’s Gus Van Sant. Drugstore Cowboy is a masterpiece. More recently he made two great underseen movies in Elephant and Paranoid Park. But he also directed an awful bore in Gerry and perhaps the worst movie I have ever seen in Last Days. As meandering and meaningless as Last Days was I prefer the two hours of nonsense that movie was over the incompetent propaganda of Promised Land.