The popular demand of this filmic generation has its glimpses of disconcertion. Generally, I try not to fret about what is being watched, it is when a special piece of cinema goes unwatched by the far majority of the population that grinds my gears (that is not even that great of a reference, but I blame it on my rage clouding my judgement). Promised Land is my quintessential example of this travesty taking place, further formulating my strong opinion that box office numbers should come with a disclaimer.
Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land begins with Steve Butler (Matt Damon) at the peak of his career, expertly buying oil rich land from poor country folk for the multi-billion dollar Global with both ease and success. He is sent with his partner Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) to rural Pennsylvania for what is supposed to be just another day at the office. But it soon becomes clear this small community will need much more persuading than usual thanks to a highly educated science teacher and an environmental presence (John Krasinski).
Now if you know anything about this film, you are already aware the larger dilemma landscaping the film is the issue of “fracking.” Quite the political issue at that, but do not let this dismay you from enjoying or watching this film. Do the filmmakers’ opinions seep into the movie? Sure. Is the multi-billion dollar company cast in a discouraging light? Of course. Through all this I can honestly say the political aspects did not take over the film nor my judgements – that’s saying something as I am not the best demographic of encouraging political issues mixed with film. Rather it is the characters I look to for evaluation of a film’s worth. Thus, my unrelenting appreciation for Promised Land.
I read a few reviews around the time of this film’s release. One stood out to me in particular, because of its condemnation of the script for inconsistencies throughout its entirety, specifically the inconsistency of Steve Butler’s character. Without using naughty language, I would like to formally disagree. Not only does this review disregard the writing abilities of Matt Damon (Oscar-winner for screenwriting) and John Krasinski (he’s talented too), but it seems it completely misread the situation of the character. These “inconsistencies” stem from a challenge Steve has never been up against, a certain change. To be clear, I am not arguing a character change – that comes later and is clearly evident – but rather a situational change. He is not battling a single person, but an outspoken community against his presence. And this is key, Steve Butler is the same man suppressing the memories of his youth and the town that contained them. Before this specific town, he has understood the quick desire people have had to take the money. So when a small town, reminiscent of his own, stands up for their land and refuses the money, his mind unhinges. He is left to realize all the good that can come from a small-knit community bordered by farmland. The character is consistent with his flaw, which in my opinion is the act of good screenwriting.
As you would expect with a cast of this nature, the acting is magnificent. Damon’s portrayal is fantastic to watch as he slowly breaks his character down to unseen levels, leaving little doubt of the character’s honesty in the audience’s mind. Krasinski and McDormand play great support as their characters strengthen Steve Butler, making his choice both vital and dramatic, while at the same time these characters brilliantly distract us from a twist that can only be described as stunning.
Coming back to my very first point, I am disturbed by the lack of success this film received. With a budget of $15 million – 10 minutes of Man of Steel – Promised Land made a dismal $8 million. One would surely think with a director of Van Sant’s caliber and the cast what it is, reputation alone puts this film even. Some films hold artistic values while others simply entertain, Promised Land does both. Rent it, buy it, or just watch it. This film does not deserve to be in the red.
Promised Land (2012) directed by Gus Van Sant