Matt Damon plays a corporate salesman for Global, a multibillion-dollar fracking company, in “Promised Land,” which he also co-wrote and produced. He’s the villain of the piece, at least ostensibly, but it’s clear he’s on the road to a Capra-esque redemption.
Directed by Gus Van Sant, the film is best when it lays out the woes of the depressed Pennsylvania farm community infiltrated by Damon’s Steve Butler and his wised-up business partner Sue (well-played by Frances McDormand). Steve is there to convince the locals to sell their land for the purposes of hydraulic fracturing in exchange for a big payday. His plans go awry when a folksy high school teacher, played by Hal Holbrook at his folkiest, questions the company’s motives and the safety of the process.
Enter Dustin, a green activist played by John Krasinksi (who co-wrote the script). Dustin wages a one-man campaign against Global while at the same time waging a (hokey) war with Steve for the affections of a local schoolteacher (Rosemarie DeWitt).
“Promised Land” is more effective as an anti-fracking screed than as a drama. Damon has his low-key charisma and Van Sant captures the enraged anomie of the community, but, except for one big plot twist, everything in this film is telegraphed from the first frame. Grade: B- (Rated R for language.)