‘Promised Land,’ reviewed by Marshall Fine


I wanted to like “Promised Land” and certainly agree with its politics. So why did it feel like a preaching-to-the-converted letdown?

Written by costars Matt Damon and John Krasinski, this Gus Van Sant film deals with a small Pennsylvania town hit hard by the recession. The area farmers are having a tough go of it – what else is new in this era of corporate farming? But some of them think they may have found a savior when a guy named Steve Butler comes to town.

As played by Damon, Steve is a small-town guy himself, though he’s now a salesman for a large natural gas company. His mission: to buy drilling rights to much of the farmland in the area, because the geological formations suggest that it’s ripe for the extraction of natural gas.

How will that gas be extracted? Butler happily tells them that the process known as hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – which uses water, toxic chemicals and high pressure to break the rock and get the gas – will leave their land in virtually the same condition as when the drilling started.

But a lot of research and empirical evidence suggests otherwise. The poisonous chemicals tend to leak into the water table and cause a toxic run-off. There are cases of local water systems being contaminated; some faucets spew gas-powered flames. There is even preliminary evidence that fracturing substrata of rock might cause earthquakes.

Yet the folks in this particular small town seem willing to risk it – or at least the farmers who most need the money that Butler is offering. Then an environmentalist named Dustin Noble (Krasinski) shows up in town, preaching the dangers of fracking. He incites a town meeting, at which a local teacher (Hal Holbrook) suggests that the town should actually take a vote on whether to allow fracking.

The battle is on for the hearts and minds of this little town’s citizens. But despite the fact that there is nothing shady or nefarious about Steve, the deck is stacked from the start.

This review continues on my website.

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