In Promised Land, Steve (Matt Damon) was sent to a small, poor town to lease land to drill for natural gas. He’s the company’s golden boy who knows how to charm local residents into leasing their minerals. His job proves to be easy at first, but trouble waits.
After Steve pays $30,000 cash to buy the support of a community leader, all hell breaks loose at a town hall meeting when a science teacher – who is actually an MIT-trained researcher – states that “fracking” is dangerous and will cause all sorts of environmental problems. Steve is flustered, especially when it comes out that the science teacher packed the town hall with anti-fracking advocates.
Damon (John Krasinski) shows up at the scene as a representative of a small environmental group, Athena, to run the campaign against fracking. His family farm was wiped out because fracking ruined their soil and their cattle died. As anyone would have predicted, Damon is fun-loving, witty, and easily wins over the townspeople, while Steve runs around telling people that everything can be fixed by the money his company is offering. The fact that most people would rather live in extreme poverty than drill for natural gas is far-fetched and Steve makes that point in my favorite scene when he tells a poor towns person that he can offer the poor person “fuck you” money which would allow the poor person to say “fuck you” to loans, “fuck you to government assistance, etc…
Right before the town election, Steve discovers that Damon lied about his personal story. That basically ensures that Steve’s side (Global) will win the election and will be able to “buy” the town. When Steve asks Damon why he did it Damon reveals to Steve that he actually works for Global and that Global created the environmental group to torpedo the environmental side allowing Global to win over the town.
Then all of the sudden Steve decides that fracking is risky and announces it to the town. He gets fired from Global and pursues a relationship with a local woman.
- Good acting – I like Matt Damon and John Krisinski as actors and thought they did a really good job.
- Global never disputes evidence that fracking causes environmental harm. It was always taken for granted that the choice was between environmental ruin and money. That is a false choice.
- The “proof” that fracking was bad was bad soil and dead cows. I’ve never heard those things as being symptoms of problems related to fracking.
- How can a town just vote to have a company there or not? I understand if they’re talking about public property in a town or county, but the movie made us believe that no natural gas wells could be drilled without majority support of the townspeople. That doesn’t jive with property rights.
- The first surprise was that this seemed to be more about a public relations/political campaign about whether to allow fracking or not than about whether fracking was good or bad. Much of the movie was a political campaign.
- Since no one disputed the “science” of anti-fracking advocates, the movie seems to be more about a large company misleading local people than an anti-fracking flick. That was a pleasant surprise.
- I doubt this movie is going to change anyone’s mind about whether fracking is good or bad. The anti-fracking side was portrayed as people who wanted to live in extreme poverty for no other reason than that they had pride being poor. The “Global” side came across as a typical big oil company – only concerned about profits. The public already knows this game.
Overall Grade – B