It is fair to say that ‘Promised Land’ will not satisfy everyone, as people looking for a debate on fracking (the process in which natural gas is removed from the ground) might not appreciate the character driven drama that ‘Promised Land’ actually is. However, with an issue as complex as fracking, the film has the benefit of funnelling the vast amount of information into a simplified narrative that will reach a wider audience on a relatable level.
Compare this to Matt Damon’s last venture into the realm of politics, narrating the documentary ‘Inside Job’, which is so packed with information that anyone would be forgiven feeling overwhelmed. ‘Promised Land’ takes the national debate to the small town setting and gives us a compelling tale that cuts to the heart of the issue.
‘Promised Land’ doesn’t offer a final solution, nor does it offer a conclusion as to whether the process of fracking is right or wrong. Instead, at the film’s core is the fight for America’s soul. “We’re not fighting for land Steve, we’re fighting for people”, says Dustin (John Krasinski) to a bewildered Steve (Matt Damon) whilst hammering a ‘Global go home’ sign into a locals front lawn.
Steve and his partner Sue (Frances McDormand) have arrived in a Pennsylvania farming town in order to quickly and cheaply the local farm land which potentially has millions (if not billions) of dollars worth of natural gases underneath. The pair go about buying the land from the locals, as the town, like many towns across the country, is in terrible economic and financial trouble.
Just when it looks like they have convinced the town that selling is the right thing to do, a local teacher warns that there is more to fracking than the pair are telling them. This causes the townsfolk to call for a vote to be held in a few weeks time. While the two ‘Global’ workers go head to head with Dustin, an environmentalist who has arrived in the town to warn the people of the dangers of fracking.
There is a clear division between the local community and the three outsiders-Steve, Sue and Dustin. It is also clear that there is a preconception to the local way of life which all three try to exploit. They try to mimic the way they dress and their ideals, and even seem to falsify their own history in order to blend in. The three outsiders use subversive manipulation, telling the same stories, making the same jokes and giving the same promises to all of the locals.
One of the film’s strengths is that the characters seem two dimensional at first, but are actually multi dimensional and are created through small character driven scenes which are, otherwise, not important to the narrative. Consequently, ‘Promised Land’ is packed with standout performances and enjoyable character interaction, most notably Sue and Steve who can be hilarious and touching.
The fictional corporation ‘Global’ has a strangle hold over the entire situation and their influence is so far reaching that this small town, like many actual towns across America, doesn’t really have a choice. The town will be fracked and the choice given to the locals to make is a fictional one, which has been created for the illusion of control.
At such a crucial point in America’s history, the film suggests that people need to start thinking beyond the immediate future and the wealth that it will bring and think about the consequences that the next generation will face. With the recent banking crisis ‘Promised Land’ comes at a time when these types of questions are at their most poignant.