'Promised Land' has promises

January 3, 2013 

Promised Land takes on the topic of big incomes from natural gas mining for a close-to-bankrupt farming community. The controversial mining process to be used is called fracking. It forces high pressure water into the rock and soil to bring out the gas.

There is uncertainty about what this process does to the environment.

Some say it is a harmless process. Others claim it contaminates the groundwater and releases dangerous gasses into the area. A few - believing there is contamination - think the risk is worth the economic benefit.

At the center of the story are two natural gas company execs done by Matt Damon and Frances McDormand. Their job is to dangle lots of dollars in front of the desperate farmers. Just as desperate is a farmer and scientist done by Hal Holbrook who opposes them. He’s the voice of reason in a chaotic community.

Adding to the problems of the two executives is a maverick environmentalist done nicely by John Krasinski. He’s quite creative and personable and one-ups the two execs at nearly every turn.

Toss in a little romance, a moral conflict or two and you have the full picture.

The acting is terrific, and co-writers Damon and The Office’s Krasinski pack the movie with deep, rich, multidimensional characters struggling to find answers to a complicated issue. Damon’s Steve Butler is an outsider. He’s also a man who grew up on and worked a farm similar to those he’s trying to sign and mine. Is he right about fracking? Is he wrong? The stakes grow higher with each passing minute.

McDormand is Steve’s partner, Sue. For her, it’s just a job. Do it and leave. As Butler falls off the deep end and struggles to define his own roots, she tries to be the anchor he needs to get the job done.

Up and down this terrific story goes. Much of the film’s watchability goes to director Gus Van Sant’s ability to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Van Sant is a gifted storyteller. Characters are his strong suit, and Van Sant connects you to them in ways other directors do not.

While Damon and Krasinski’s script gets stuck from time to time in a circular should-we, shouldn’t-we argument, it has enough positives, twists and believable characters to recommend.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

Director: Gus Van Sant

Stars: Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Francis McDormand, Rosmarie DeWitt, Hal Holbrook

Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars

Rated R for mature themes, language. It is playing at Regal’s Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don’t bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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