Beige Reviews: Promised Land
A new Gus Van Sant film is always something to celebrate. One of America’s more intelligent and risk-taking directors, his back catalogue is quite impressive – Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, Elephant and Milk to name a few. So why is it the that Promised Land, is such a disappointment? The performances are great, it’s amusing and sweet natured and its entertaining. It’s also very…ordinary.
Steve Butler has just been promoted in his company but he has one last field trip to make. Along with co-worker, Sue, they head to a small town to convince the locals to allow his company to come in and drill for natural gas. It should be a straight forward, ‘sign on the dotted line’ job that would take a few days to complete, as Butler’s persuasive approach to the struggling farmers will win them over. Or so he thinks, until at a local meeting, elderly science teacher Frank Yates throws a spanner in the works and tells the community about ‘fracking’. This is soon followed by environmentalist, Dustin Noble, arriving in town and turning the locals against the idea, leaving Butler fighting an almost losing battle.
Under normal circumstances, this would have been a delightful drama with an environmental message, with a cast of talented actors who know their trade. The trouble is this is a Gus Van Sant film and so you expect so much more. You expect quirky. You expect experimental. You expect something other than just a simple tale like this. Not that Van Sant hasn’t done ordinary before. Good Will Hunting was an ordinary tale but it had an edge, it felt cinematic. This could have been made for TV and no one would have been the wiser.
Matt Damon, who also co-wrote and co-produced (along with fellow co-star John Krasinki) is good as Steve Butler, the city sharp businessman with an air of confidence that verges on arrogant. His obvious natural charms do show here and it’s always a pleasure seeing Damon in lighter form. Krasinski, as Butler’s nemesis, Dusty, is also likeable. Almost polar opposite to Butler, yet with that same charm, Krasinski, more known over here for the US version of The Office, hasn’t been selfish and written himself a huge part but it’s still an important one.
The film belongs to a couple of veterans of the screen. Hal Holbrook, best known as Deep Throat in All The President’s Men, is a delight as Frank, the wise old sage of the town. His plea to the locals for not allowing the drilling is a simple, honest scene played with minimum effort but maximum effect. The film however, belongs to Frances McDormand. As Sue, Steve’s partner in crime, she is funny, interesting and hypnotising. She commands the screen every time she appears and just dazzles with her timing and pure naturalness. Although an Oscar winner (for Fargo) she has never been given superstar status. In my book, she’s up there with the likes of Meryl Streep.
Plot wise, its not too dissimilar to Bill Forsyth’s excellent 1983 whimsical comedy Local Hero and this is the problem. Its not offensive (apart from the strong language), it’s not violent and it has some sweet moments (the flirtatious relationship between Steve and local school teacher, Alice, nicely played by Rosemarie DeWitt, works well) and it has an enjoyable, if predictable, ending. There is, in fact, nothing wrong apart from lacking in any originality or invention. If a pleasant, entertaining film is what you are after, it’s perfectly fine but fans of Van Sant will leave wanting.
Words: Stuart WrenJump to comments