First Review: Promised Land ★★★★☆


The subject of natural gas fracking perhaps doesn’t immediately suggest a Hollywood film but it is exactly this that Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land is offering audiences. My attention had been grabbed by the film’s trailer but I remained slightly sceptical as to whether the dramatization of this normally serious topic would work. I was wrong to doubt the film – through its focus on the effect of fracking on ordinary people, it has unearthed a story demanding to be told.

The film’s screenplay is well-written and the film’s strong cast really reap the benefit of this. Matt Damon and John Krasinski work off of each other excellently, using the tension between their characters to fuel their performances. The movie is utterly stolen, however, by the performance of Frances McDormand. Her portrayal of Sue Thomason (undoubtedly one of my favourite supporting roles of this year so far) is excellent, successfully teasing out both the comedy and the fragility of the character to great effect.

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The film’s presentation of the lengths to which Global and environmental group Athena would go to in order to achieve their aims was interesting. The initial portrayal of Global corresponded closely to the stereotypical corporate monolith – powerful, single-minded and confident in the power of money to solve problems. Athena, on the other hand, was shown to be the more subversive party, willing to use far less traditional methods than financial bribery. Krasinki’s Dustin integrates flawlessly into the town, making use of all resources available to him to achieve his goal including the impressionable minds of local school children. The film’s twist (which I personally never saw coming) sweeps aside the suggestion of the relative innocence of big business in a slick and effective way.

The film is not always fast-paced and yet always held my attention. It is the perfect length to tell the story it seeks to tell, neither cutting detail nor prompting me to check my watch. There will without doubt be audience members who will be put off by the film’s political nature but this is a great shame as the film is far more concerned with human nature, ethics and conscience than it is with anything else.

Promised Land is a good film. It has the heart which so many political films lack without in any way compromising the humour or drama of the story. With the competition for next year’s awards ceremonies already picking up, I do worry that the film will pass largely unrecognised. If this turns out to be the case, it will be a real shame.

Promised Land (2013), directed by Gus Van Sant, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures, Certificate 15.


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