Film Review: Gus Van Sant’s ‘Promised Land’ Breaks Promise to Audiences

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CHICAGO – When a Gus Van Sant picture works well, it can be as rousing as “Milk” or as thrillingly experimental as “Elephant.” Few filmmakers have straddled the mainstream and independent realms with such success (Steven Soderbergh would be another). But when a Van Sant film fails, it often fails spectacularly, as proven by “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” and that notoriously pointless “Psycho” remake. Oscarman rating: 2.5/5.0
Rating: 2.5/5.0

“Promised Land” is far from Van Sant’s worse film, but it’s certainly his blandest since “Finding Forrester.” By tackling the immensely topical issue of fracking, the film promises to stage provocative verbal altercations between an energy company salesman, Steve Butler (Matt Damon), and an environmental activist, Dustin (John Krasinski). At least that’s what the trailers suggest, but the script co-authored by Damon and Krasinski (based on a story by Dave Eggers) turns out to be a groan-inducing bait-and-switch.

StarRead Matt Fagerholm’s full review of “Promised Land” in our reviews section.

Readers can be reassured that this review is spoiler-free, essentially since the film spoils itself. Instead of exploring the moral complexity of both rivals, it paints their personalities in the broadest of strokes. Butler is basically a decent guy who believes he’s helping the very people he’s hurting, while Dustin is a stereotypical villain whose every move is designed to get under Butler’s skin. Krasinski has had an engaging screen presence in past films, most notably in Eggers’ “Away We Go,” but this role draws solely on the actor’s reservoirs of smug self-satisfaction. He is hatable from the get-go, and that makes his interplay with Butler less interesting. Damon has some strong scenes in which his character can’t manage to hide his mounting exasperation at the easily swayed inhabitants of the latest rural community in his crosshairs. His calculated wardrobe of small town outfits covered in dangling price tags is laughably artificial, but Damon makes Butler’s innate compassion for farming communities ring true. When he pitches his plan to buy a town’s drilling rights, he appears to be convincing himself as much as the citizens. It’s a good performance, but Damon’s own script lets him down. It lacks the wit and arresting eloquence that made “Good Will Hunting” so memorable.

‘Promised Land’ stars Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Krasinski and Hal Holbrook. It was written by John Krasinski and Matt Damon and directed by Gus Van Sant. It opened December 28th at local theaters. It is rated R.

StarContinue reading for Matt Fagerholm’s full “Promised Land” review.

Matt Damon stars in Gus Vant Sant’s Promised Land, a Focus Features release.
Matt Damon stars in Gus Vant Sant’s Promised Land, a Focus Features release.
Photo credit: Scott Green

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