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‘Promised Land’: A Folksy Take On Fracking

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
December 27, 2012

Promised Land, Gus Van Sant’s gentle but knowing natural gas drama, is concerned with the tension between long-term environmental costs and short-term financial gain. Set in small-town Pennsylvania and based on a story by Dave Eggers, the screenplay by co-stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski aims for a moral complexity that pays as much attention to economic reality as social responsibility. Though the film eventually caves to sentiment and stereotype, its alert performances and muted rhythms offer much to enjoy in the interim.

As the advance guard of a major energy conglomerate, newly promoted Steve (Damon) and his astringent partner Sue (Frances McDormand) persuade beleaguered farmers to sell drilling rights to land held by their families for generations. A one-time Iowa farm boy, Steve knows that a flannel work shirt and fake folksy charm can soften the most doubtful mark; he also knows that too much information about the company’s gas extraction methods — otherwise known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — can derail his sales pitch.

But Steve, as he keeps telling the locals, isn’t a bad guy. He may dispense as many bribes as homilies, but he’s a true believer who sees himself more as savior than salesman. To him, natural gas offers salvation from a disappearing way of life and hard cash for landowners who can barely feed their families. And since farms are doomed, those who cling to their agricultural heritage are practicing “delusional self-mythology,” an argument that many familiar with the economics of today’s farming may see as not entirely far-fetched.

Gliding on Danny Elfman’s ethereal score and cinematographer Linus Sandgren’s bucolic vistas, Promised Land (unlike Josh Fox’s searing 2010 documentary Gasland) isn’t a howl of anger against corporate callousness. Channeling its environmental concerns through the character of a quietly eloquent retired scientist (Hal Holbrook), the film maintains a homey, humorous tone that only occasionally crackles with anger or disappointment. Most of the pleasure derives from Damon and McDormand’s prickly but pragmatic partnership and, later, Krasinski’s breezy cockiness as Dustin Noble, an environmental activist who woos the locals with sob stories and karaoke. Watching Dustin murder Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” in front of a bar full of applauding farmers, Steve visibly deflates.

And this, if anything, is the film’s Achilles’ heel. Damon may not be entirely comfortable playing the corporate villain (however ambivalent), and he makes Steve surprisingly pouty and easily overwhelmed. Luckily he’s surrounded by excellent supporting players, including Rosemarie DeWitt as a local schoolteacher and man magnet, and Titus Welliver as a brooding shopkeeper with modest designs on Sue. By the time we realize we’re watching a standard transformation story that’s a little cliched and a lot self-serving, Van Sant’s steady hand and unobtrusive style have almost convinced us otherwise. (Recommended) [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

One Response to “‘Promised Land’: A Folksy Take On Fracking”

  1. Pinky says:

    The whackadoodle environuts just repeat the usual litany of talking points. Destroys health, property values, communities, the sky is falling, fracking will push your grandma off a cliff!!!! Please people just get a grip already. Drilling for oil and gas has been going on in my corner of Pennsylvania as well as worldwide since Drake hit oil in Titusville in 1859. Fracking is just another drilling technology. The truth is these anti-frackers are really anti-American. Not only is natural gas a much cleaner fuel than coal, diesel or gasoline, it is used to make plastics, fertilizers, textiles, medicines, paints, – in fact everything you touch all day long has natural gas byproducts. Your car, your cellphone, your computer, your shoes, aspirin, etc. The shale gas boom means high paying jobs, tax revenues, royalties for farmers, cheap energy, national security, energy independence and yes even a reduction in CO2 emissions. It is a win-win-win for us all and should encouraged.

    And just a little side note here, ETHANOL from corn is the worst idea ever! Not only does it increase food costs exponentially, it INCREASES CO2 emissions. Obviously the environuts skipped class to smoke some dope the day their high school science teacher covered the fermentation process. CO2 is emitted in huge amounts when making ethanol, not to mention the fuels used to grow, transport and cook the corn added to the CO2 when the ethanol is burned. And that is not to mention the 10% to 20% reduction in fuel economy when burning ethanol/gasoline blends. When you do the math and add it all up it is ridiculous to the extreme how much more CO2 is generated from the “green”, “sustainable” ethanol boondoggle.

    The environuts are the ultimate hypocrits when it comes to these kinds of issues because they want to shut down all the “dirty”, “greedy” industrial operations, but are the first to complain when the lights don’t come on or gas prices increase. I will listen to them when they go completely “off grid”, no electricity, no car, no cell phone, nothing. Then they can preach to the rest of us how we are supposedly killing the planet.

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