Promised Land offers a fine place to start appreciating Matt Damon. While everybody else is acting, he is just being natural. The actor in Damon never leaves fingerprints, calls attention to himself or makes a mistake - not once in 20 years. He creates an illusion of the familiar, from Jason Bourne to Mr. Ripley.
Promised Land offers a fine place to start appreciating Matt Damon.
While everybody else is acting, he is just being natural.
The actor in Damon never leaves fingerprints, calls attention to himself or makes a mistake — not once in 20 years. He creates an illusion of the familiar, from Jason Bourne to Mr. Ripley.
That familiarity is put to good use with Promised Land, in which he plays a salesman for a “fracking” company who tries to talk rural people into leasing their land for natural-gas drilling.
He is paired with a fellow salesman played by Frances McDormand, who also radiates informality and trustworthiness.
After the contracts are signed, the gas company arrives and the residents get rich — maybe. Or maybe their livestock dies and flames shoot out of the water faucets.
Damon and McDormand play nice characters with high-pressure jobs and roots in the land they’r e striving to transform.
The question of the movie — a question they face — involves whether, in regard to the farm culture, they’re serving as the means of its survival or extinction.
Promised Land is directed by Gus Van Sant, with attention to the performances and real feeling for the environments that rural people inhabit — the open spaces and the tiny downtown with one store that sells everything and one bar where everyone congregates. Despite the high spirits and proud talk of the residents, the culture is on life support, with farms undercut by big agriculture and unable to survive without government help. So, to some residents, fracking seems the miracle they’ve awaited.
In an early scene, Damon sits in a living room and tells a resident of the millions that can be made from fracking. “You’d be a millionaire,” he says with enough simplicity that it seems true and with enough force that the thought fills the theater.
Imagine someone — someone you instinctively trust and believe — telling you that if you sign something you will become a millionaire. And, if you don’t sign, your kids won’t be able to go to college.
Written by Damon and John Krasinski, who plays an environmentalist, and based on a story by Dave Eggers, Promised Land is a measured, careful movie that doesn’t raise its voice and make broad claims but quietly expresses concerns.
One concern — irrespective of the merits or dangers of fracking — is that the rural communities are no match for the natural-gas companies, with assets in the billions, and so their chance of getting unbiased, unfiltered information is doubtful. Thus, the film serves as a modest balance against that state of affairs, as well as a record of the moment when these decisions were being made.
Promised Land plays out as a campaign, with Damon and McDormand on one side and Krasinski, as the folksy environmentalist who rides into town and makes everyone love him, on the other. Damon is in his element, playing someone trying to work things out in his mind while feeling pressured on all sides.
In addition to Krasinski and McDormand, who offer playful support, the movie gets boosts from Hal Holbrook, as the town’s wise man, and Rosemarie DeWitt, who has never been so appealing.
But this is Damon’s movie, in that he’s the moral locus, the film’s center of meaning. It’s time to consider the possibility that his appearance in so many good movies is no coincidence; he’s a big part of what makes them good.