Promised Land full movie review - "Don't Jerk Us Off" as eloquently said by one landowner speaks volumes...
Promised Land opens generically if you will with protagonist Matt Damon consummating some kind of business deal we are to believe is quite substantial.
What this deal is isn't really revealed other than it has to do with the decline of rural America and something that is going have potential to make a corporation lots of money while placating the locals with the belief they've suffered enough and now there's a road back. Reading between lines the viewer can tell the Damon character is a master agent for negotiating leases for natural gas. He shows a bit of his persona by telling a back-story of his being raised in Eldridge, Iowa. Even though he is schooled in anything but agriculture he can connect with the local yokels. He plays his role knowing he's not like these folks in these small communities, in fact he outright says it's all bullshit...But, play the role he must since his company mysteriously is able to nail these leases at an astounding rate less by half than competitors in his industry. Well, you've got my attention since no one can do something at less than half of the industry in any industry unless you're subsidized by the government or a crook.
Director Gus Van Sant has a story to tell and like a fine painting it requires some introspection. Damon obviously gets the job and he's off. As a "hotshot" he is modest: he rides a bus, not flying. Van Sant shows us some picturesque small town with the Norman Rockwell subject "senior farmer" who has a nice modest spread and adoring wife. Is he a target or an icon? Next we see on Damon's arrival in our farmer's town he has his advance person there with the requisite "acceptable" vehicle (downplaying the potential money to be made with mass acceptability as a commoner's chariot). Damon's com-padre is Frances McDormand and their first stop is a type of general store let's just say you'd never find in within walking distance of The Trump Plaza. Apparently the couple's mission is to dress down some more and get on the level of the town folk. The owner of the general store calls their bluff immediately by identifying them as "the natural gas people". Funny in a revealing way because the modus operandi is to "fool" the town's folks into submission and the first one they meet nails who they are and their mission. Damon and McDormand proceed to their first potential land owner and he too picks-up on the fact they're attempting to "fit-it" by removing a new tag from the Carhart type vest Damon just purchased yet failed to think about too deeply. The couple double-teams the farm couple by "selling" the better future drilling for gas will provide, yet when it comes to upfront money offered they are immediately called on that by the young land owner. He knows it isn't really right, however Damon is equipped for this and moves on explaining away. It's a known fact that 8% sounds bad until you drop the bomb, the word millions. First plot down, many more to go. Enter the Athena environmental group...John Krazinkski, representing the environmental group, suddenly appears in town and offers to reveal cold hard facts to any potential dissenters. There's this scene of him showing pictures of dead cattle in a field to Yates that speaks volumes. Damon immediately realizes something is up as he see's Krazinski and fails to get him to yield his truck so they can talk. The race is on to win the vote between the two. What transpires as these two go about their manipulations is an allusion to what lengths big money will go to in order to secure ultimate outcomes as Krazinkski's character is building a lie only to be exposed on the eve of the big town vote. The lie is yet another part of the Global manipulation. Watch and see how those as seen as easy targets are delivered because you know even though this is a fictional story there's a much larger truth. A truth that quick money is positioned to capitulate because it is a war with an ultimate victor who, quite likely, will not be those who take the quick money. As Damon's Steve realizes he has been manipulated too he has a change of heart that can only come by being beaten down. It isn't too late for him or the town in the end to reconsider which Steve does and we are led to believe there is hope the town will too.
Is this story wholly true...I doubt it. Is this story laced with truths on both sides...absolutely. Is the end result bigger than any one person...no question. That is what "Promised Land" excels in saying. The movie has so many metaphors and allusions to larger truths it actually bears watching twice. This is a compliment. As one who has recently watched three very different, yet singularly telling farm documentaries (The World According to Monsanto, Food Inc., and Farmegeddon) I find this a fitting accompaniment to what is wrong with our once mighty farm-family based society. Big money has ran amok corrupting it corrupting our political system in the process. In the end analysis "Promised Land" is primarily good entertainment, but entertainment that speaks to all we need a quantum shift in how we support and manage out greatest resource which is the land we all share. A fine movie, a real message wrapped within it in very palatable style delivered expertly by a talented director, cinematographer, and cast. Enjoy this one and then think about simple, as well as big, changes we as a society need to set a path toward. More mass consumption big-budget flicks should be so pertinent.