Saturday, January 5, 2013

Promised Land

As I start my fifth year of movie blogging, I plan to write at least a paragraph, more if the spirit movies, on each movie I see in theaters in 2013, and I will start with 2012 late releases. (If I had done that last year, I would have about 86 posts for 2012, a lot more than the 31 posts I wrote.) Yeah, sometimes less is more, but at least I can maintain a literal "web log" of my year at the movies, which I do anyway as a personal document.

1. Promised Land (2012)

When Steve Butler (Matt Damon) and Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) come to a small farming community in Pennsylvania to offer farmers a way out of the economic slump by leasing drilling rights for natural gas-producing shale, they encounter a very predictable cast of characters: the poor single mother who wants a future for her son; the uppity rednecks who see Steve as a big-city jerk; the unmarried teacher (Rosemarie DeWitt) who seems casually unconcerned about environmental side effects and sees Steve as a possible partner; the crotchety old science teacher (nicely played by Hal Holbrook) who knows all about the dangerous side effects; and the crusading environmentalist (John Krasinski), aptly named Dustin Noble.

The only thing out of whack is that Matt Damon is playing a sort of jerk, pushing his way up the corporate ladder by buying rights cheaply and dismissing worries of the environmental effects. Indeed, Damon seems uncomfortable playing the zealous corporate agent; he almost doesn’t know how to stand. Nevertheless, he provides presence, as he always can do in the weakest of films, and he bolsters up this simplistic story that lacks sufficient conflict and tension. McDormand is wooden; DeWitt constantly plays the laid-back, whimsical “I-know-the-truth” smirk.

Director Gus Van Sant frames some lovely atmospheric shots of smalltown America as well as some wonderful aerial shots that take in the whole beleaguered town. Finally, (SPOILER) we get a plot twist that turns Steve into the “Noble” character and allows you to breathe a sigh of relief as Damon assumes the wholesome, good-guy persona we expect from him and which he does so well.

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