Matt Damon’s latest drama, Promised Land, doesn’t have many reasons to be optimistic and is ultimately a well-meaning effort that is simply remarkable for being so unremarkable.
It’s one of those movies that want to deliver this powerful message to make you think and strike a call to action, but wimps out in terms of telling you who you need to rally against.
Damon plays Steve, a salesman for a natural gas company assigned to get the locals signed up to let the corporation tap the natural resources. He excels at his job and is in line for a heavily-coveted promotion. Accompanying him on his latest trip is his partner, Sue (Frances McDormand, Moonrise Kingdom), the more no-nonsense member of their duo.
Steve is part huckster/part spokesman telling the people whatever they want to hear in terms of the potential financial windfall that awaits them if they sign off on the deal. Honestly, you’d buy pretty much anything from Damon so the numerous scenes Director Gus Van Sant spends on Steve spinning the virtues of natural gas seem like so much hot air and a waste of time. Damon’s presence is the only thing keeping the film remotely watchable, but he doesn’t make his third screenplay terribly exciting. I kept thinking “Did Damon not want to do The Bourne Legacy so he could do this?”
For those on the fence of outright opponents, like school teacher Frank (Hal Holbrook), Steve’s sell job isn’t as effective. Steve’s presumed easy pitch gets further threatened when Dustin (Damon’s co-screenwriter John Krasinski) a smooth-talking environmentalist arrives with a sad story of his experience with Steve’s company and how they ruined his father’s farm.
A subplot where Steve and Dustin are both vying for the attention of an attractive teacher (Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister) could have given the audience some reason to care about the movie or at least provide some spark, but it ultimately fizzles too. It’s a shame as the Damon/DeWitt scenes aren’t anything revolutionary, but have some life to them that made me wish they were attached to a better movie.
Is Steve just a corporate tool or a nice guy doing what he thinks is best? How is Dustin able to outmatch his every move? Why are some of the people so worried about their land being destroyed? Why is Sue singing karaoke to the devil (Titus Welliver) from Lost? More importantly, why should we care?
This was clearly a passion project for Damon and Krasinski, but little of that passion comes through.
It’s not exactly breaking news that some corporations will do whatever it takes to get something they want whether lying, cheating or stealing. Similarly, not everyone in the corporate umbrella is some greedy, bloodsucker just concerned with the bottom line. Promised Land offers us little new while offering even less to think about that making for a largely unsatisfying journey.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Photo Credit: Scott Green/Focus Features