Stop us if this sell sounds familiar...
A city guy with rustic roots visits rural Pennsylvania to seduce locals into signing up to his company’s plans to drill the area for natural gas (‘fracking’).
He wants their hearts, minds and land in return for a percentage.
But there’s this good ol’ gal who drinks like a dude, likes kids, nurtures goats and seems to have ‘redemption’ tattooed all over her teeth...
And so, despite Gus Van Sant’s reunion with Matt Damon (also co-writing from a story by Dave Eggers) promising to tackle issues that touch real, off-Hollywood lives, its sales pitch starts to ring as hollow as Mr City Guy’s offer of a cut.
Sure, hints of the film it could have been remain. Finding a John Sayles-ian rhythm between Danny Elfman’s dreamy score and DoP Linus Sandgren’s expansive vistas, Van Sant shows a gentle touch that’s far preferable to the toxic whimsy of Restless.
He gets the goods from Damon too, who nails gas guy Steve’s wobbles between sincerity and sales-speak, confidence and fallibility.
As Steve’s colleague Sue, Frances McDormand serves welcome drollery and a spin-off movie’s worth of bittersweet banter with a shopkeeper; as local teacher Alice, Rosemarie DeWitt could charm the hind legs off a goat.
So it’s a shame Alice gets reduced to a mere plaything in Steve’s tussle with eco hunk/plot device Dustin Noble (John Krasinski), who arrives to stop Steve and to stoke a climax that exposes the film’s hand.
Under-selling the grey-shades characters and the issues, a fusillade of falsehoods pile up: locals act like hicks, a twist simply beggars belief, an episode involving homemade lemonade serves more corn than 20 Cameron Crowe films, and the climactic speech arrives in overemoting deluges of wobbly chin acting.
As a slice of rural Americana, Promised Land works.
Then it turns into sticky apple pie, leaving only the feeling that you’ve been had.
Pause before signing up. After promising beginnings, Damon and Van Sant’s eco-yarn loses its bottle and slugs on cliché. Much to enjoy, but the themes deserve a bit frackin’ better.