2013 / Director. Gus Van Sant.
Cinema is all about manipulation. I get that and that's what I love about it. It's exhilarating to be in the hands of a filmmaker who is able to elicit emotions and provoke a reaction. That said. I resist and often reject political manipulation and PROMISED LAND definitely sat a little funny with me. Of course it was directed by Gus Van Sant who is known for being politically outspoken and so I ventured into the film prepared. Matt Damon and Frances McDormand play two representatives of a natural gas company who's job is to convince small towns to sell their land for drilling and more specifically, fracking. Just as they're beginning to win the town over, a loan environmentalist arrives on the scene to challenge them and so begins a moral conflict with the community stuck in the middle as fodder. Lies built upon lies and ambiguous truths conflict the residents as they're faced with an ultimatum... sell up and get rich at the risk of the town's future or reject the offer and carry on struggling. As a human drama, it works. The performances are great and the script is strong. It conjured up memories of Erin Brockovich and The Rainmaker in it's telling of a big corporate body walking all over the people. But that's where the manipulation comes into it. I didn't trust the movie. Something didn't feel right and I got to wondering about who was behind it. After viewing it I did a simple google search and read that some controversy followed the film. Much of it's funding came from a foreign petroleum company who have a vested interest in preventing the natural gas industry. It wasn't quite the green resistance I was expecting but a questionable intent nonetheless. I'm sure more reading will raise more questions. Anyhow - The film looks great with it's beautiful sweeping landscapes and picturesque rural setting. It's shot really well and the township becomes it's own character. Danny Elfman also provides a nicely restrained score, which gives the film a modest and humble feel. Forgetting the political bullshit, PROMISED LAND does work on a basic dramatic level about the hardships of rural life and I am sure it's depiction of an honest, hard working faming community is accurate. Perhaps if the film hadn't taken such a drastic turn of events in it's final act I might have granted it more credit. I enjoyed looking at it but can't say that I entirely loved watching it.