Promised Land Review
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It’s been almost 15 years since Matt Damon earned an Oscar for writing director Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting. Now, the two have teamed up again, in hopes of bringing home more Oscar gold—but while their latest collaboration, Promised Land, is another captivating character study, it falls short of greatness in the end.

Damon (who also co-wrote the screenplay) stars as down-to-earth natural gas salesman Steve Butler. Steve knows what it’s like to live in a struggling farming community, so he knows just how to get the small rural communities that he visits to buy into his company’s plans to drill for natural gas.

On his latest stop, though, Steve and his partner, Sue (Frances McDormand), hit an unexpected road block when retired engineer Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook) starts preaching about the hazards of the drilling process. It gets even worse when environmentalist Dustin Noble (played by co-screenwriter John Krasinski) joins the fight.

Soon, instead of waltzing into town and getting a few signatures, Steve finds himself going out of his way to try to convince the town—and pretty young teacher Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt)—that he’s not such a bad guy.

Really, there’s nothing particularly new or exciting about this simple story about the battle between a big business and a small town. It’s been done before, and it’ll be done again. What makes Promised Land stand out, then, is its characters.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film is its play on the usual battle between good and evil. We all know that Big Business is supposed to be the enemy. Steve arrives in town with his carefully-planned wardrobe of jeans and flannels, ready to do his wheeling and dealing with the locals to get what his company wants. Still, despite his job, Damon’s Steve is a surprisingly likable character. He truly believes that he’s helping the people by offering them a way to supplement their shrinking income, and his sincerity often comes shining through his polished sales tactics. And when a couple of vocal opponents come forward with evidence to suggest that Steve might not be playing for the right team, his whole world begins to crumble around him, making him increasingly frantic and desperate.

Dustin, on the other hand, is supposed to be the good guy—the one who’s fighting for both the environment and the little guy—but Krasinski plays him like the villain. His Dustin is cocky and smug—and while the town’s residents may buy into his charm, viewers will see right through him. For Dustin, it’s more about defeating Steve than saving the environment. So while Steve may be the one working for a big corporation, Dustin feels like the shyster.

The ongoing struggle between these two characters makes the film captivating and even suspenseful—and a clever twist in the end makes it more than just another sticking-it-to-the-man drama. The problem, then, is that Promised Land doesn’t know when to end. Instead of cutting it short and giving viewers something to think about as they leave theaters, it rambles on, becoming weaker and preachier with every passing minute. And, as a result, the film ends on a disappointingly low note.

Still, that’s not to say that Promised Land isn’t worth watching. The characters alone make it worth your time. But don’t expect Damon to collect another Oscar for his efforts.

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