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'Promised Land' a socially relevant, simple film with a twist

Promised Land is a simple and predictable film that nonetheless leaves you with some nice ‘warm and fuzzies.’ Screenwriters John Krasinski and Matt Damon team up with director Gus Van Sant, known for Good Will Hunting and Milk, among others, to create a socially relevant movie about small-town American life and its battle with corporations.

Matt Damon stars as Steve Butler, a natural gas salesman who uses his small-town background to relate to the folks to whom he tries to sell his commercialized dream. The movie’s plot focuses on fracking, a technique energy companies use to extract natural gas from the ground.

The film’s central thematic battle is between the desire to keep the small-town American dream alive and the industrial realities that may make that dream difficult to sustain. Damon’s character has a compelling life story, underscoring the idea that though small towns reject corporations, corporations keep small towns alive.

Butler travels the country convincing townsfolk to accept the presence of natural gas companies as inevitable and to sell their land to them. His motivation comes from watching his own small town slowly die away after a factory shutdown.

His sales partner Sue Thomason, played by the flawless Frances McDormand, is less noble and compelling but much more willing to play the corporate game. Together they make an unstoppable team and their huge sales rates launch them to great success in the company.

A small Pennsylvania town becomes the game-changer for Thomason and Butler when local high school science teacher Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook) and environmental activist Dustin Noble (John Krasinski) challenge their company’s practices.

The movie, apart from one stunning and incredibly unexpected twist, rolls along at a steady pace and has a relatively predictable plot line. But what sets the film apart is its incredible tone. Free from the forced optimism of some films and the piled-on tragedy of others, Promised Land works as a slice-of-life movie that escapes the dullness plaguing much of the genre.

The top-notch screenwriting, directing, and performances make Promised Land a quality movie to sit through. It won’t blow you away, but it will leave you pleasantly intrigued and intellectually stimulated. This is certainly one to watch, although you could wait to watch it on Netflix rather than spend the money to see it in theaters.