Gaby’s Movie Review: Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land


Matt Damon and director Gus Van Sant working together again? I was so looking forward to this movie. Good Will Hunting is one of my all-time favorite films, and while I didn’t expect Promised Land to be as good as Hunting, I still had hopes that I would be entertained. And I was. Well, sort of.

Promised Land follows Steve Butler (Damon), a successful natural gas salesman who is bound for a big promotion. Steve truly believes that he is helping the small town people his company is buying the land from to drill for natural gas. Growing up in a rural community that went through a rough economic decline, he knows that farmers and other rural inhabitants need all the money that his company is willing to give them. Teamed with partner, Sue (Frances McDormand), they visit another small town to sell natural gas, and we finally see the work, deception and truth of what these natural gas corporations would do to get whatever they want.

The clear intention of Promised Land is teach audiences about the dangers and misleading facts regarding fracking (drilling land for natural gas). Matt Damon and John Krasinski (who also stars in the film as an environmentalist protesting Steve and Sue’s presence in the small town) wrote the screenplay. They’re both supporters of anti-fracking activism. It feels like this movie is the product of Damon and Krasinski hanging out one day, talking about how terrible fracking is, and how more people need to know about it. For me, making a documentary about it would’ve been more effective. Yet, I understand that people are more likely to watch a movie starring Damon and Krasinski than they are likely to watch a documentary about fracking. So now, we have Promised Land.

The movie was also weird on how it plays out. I felt myself siding with Damon’s character, even though he was technically the bad person by trying to convince these people to sell their land. But he was just so innocent. I mean, you would think that a man about to be promoted to a V.P. position would have some sort of clue regarding the truth about the company he works for. His naivety and Damon’s immense likability had me siding with him, especially when he was going head-to-head with the aggressive environmentalist. In turn that distracted me for the entire movie because I know fracking is bad, so why did I want the corporate guy to win? Even without the (SPOILER ALERT) redemption at the end, I would be on Matt Damon’s side through and through.

The plot is pretty formulaic, and like I said, it’s really to tell us all about fracking. There’s some great snippy dialogue between Damon’s and McDormand’s characters that I liked. And there is an unexpected twist that I thought actually drove home how manipulative corporations could be. Rosemarie DeWitt was disappointingly underused as merely the love interest. Krasinski was okay, and there’s never really anything to complain about Hal Holbrook. Gus Van Sant brings some sweeping beauty to this rather indolent drama.

Promised Land could’ve been a better drama, but it’s hard to dislike something that is so well-intentioned. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking every five minutes during the film that Damon and Krasinski should’ve just made a documentary instead.

Rating: 6/10 stars


Promised Land is now playing in select theaters. It expands nationwide on January 4th.

Stay tuned to The Young Folks; later this week, we’ll be hosting an awesome Promised Land giveaway. (You know you want some Good Will Hunting Blu-Rays!)


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