Promised Land is no Good Will Hunting (1997).
It brings back director Gus Van Sant and actor Matt Damon, but it's another example of you can't go home again.
Who knew Ben Affleck was so crucial? He's missing from the reunion, but it's doubtful that he could bolster the lackluster doings.
John Krasinski replaces Affleck as Damon's co-star and co-writer, but when he and Damon decide to give his character the surname Noble, we probably know we're shopping in the bargain basement. And we may suspect that a gimmicky ending is in store for us.
Promised Land could be titled Good Steve Hustling. It's the story of Steve Butler (Damon), a salesman for Global Crossover Solutions. He's on the rise and about to get promoted to VP of land management.
He and another sales agent Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) journey to McKinley, a small rural farming community to lease drilling rights from the residents for their company to frack for the underground natural gas.
The town is fictitious and probably supposed to be universal. Most of the film was made in Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh. The fact that the town in the film is not actual is another sign that Promised Land is more inexact than specific.
In his attempts to gain the rights, Steve faces an outside activist Dustin Noble (John Krasinski) who becomes his adversary. Noble is personable and effective in opposing Steve and Sue.
While he's on business, Steve also faces the personal quest to clarify his own values. He meets a teacher Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt) who has a major effect on him.
It all comes down to a town meeting - which seldom is a good sign.
The screenplay by Damon and Krasinski (from a story by Dave Eggers) is pretty weak. It's sketchy instead of developed.
In many films today there is a lot of improvised dialogue. It's usually mediocre. One often can't tell whether it's weak improv or a bad script.
In Promised Land, are they making it up as they go along? Written and/or improvised, it seems that way.
In Promised Land the dialogue is skimpy. After Steve tells Alice he's from Iowa, she says, "Oh, you're a Buckeye." That's just dumb. Anyone from upstate Pennsylvania or anywhere in the midwest knows Buckeyes are from Ohio State.
Maybe it's just to show she's even more of a ninny than Steve is. It's hard to believe that Steve is so lacking in perception. He supposedly succeeded with his corporation, but there is no evidence he isn't just clerking at Walmart. He's easily blindsided.
The dialogue between Steve and Alice at times is inane:
Steve: "Alice, if I had asked you out?"
Alice: "I would have said yes." Ok then.
Character is said, not shown. Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook) says to Steve, "You're a good man."
So we know Steve is a good man. But he's no Charlie Brown.
The most tension in the film is whether a truck will start or not.
Promised Land has a strong cast. But they're given very little with which to work.
Damon wanders through the superficial role of Steve. Rosemarie DeWitt also wanders. Frances McDormand is wasted. Hal Holbrook, who since Wall Street (1987), often is cast as the sage who makes a few earthy moral pronouncements, does so here.
Only Krasinski, as the peppy activist, brings a little verve to the film.
Promised Land represents a new, unfortunate trend. Like Hyde Park on Hudson, Promised Land has a couple of good scenes, but the rest is cobbled together.
In more than one way, fracking seems to have made its way to the movies.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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