The environmental battle over natural gas drilling may not seem like the material that crowd-pleasing movies are built on, but Promised Land overcomes its potentially bland fracking setup to be a genuinely entertaining movie. In fact, this movie isn't really about fracking as much as it is the moral dilemma faced by its main character, portrayed by Matt Damon. He and John Krasinski square off in the Gus Van Sant-directed film as combating forces on either side of the fracking debate. They handily influence a small town (and the audience), though both campaigns are as compelling as they are dubious.
Damon plays Steve Butler, a slick but likable salesman, with familiar ease. He represents Global, a megacorporate natural-gas company that buys the drilling rights to citizens' land. Steve's got one last town (the fictional McKinley) to win over with his partner Sue (Frances McDormand, a pleasure to watch, as always) before he's promoted up the corporate ranks. They think they've got it in the bag until Dustin (Krasinski), an environmentalist with some bold claims about the detrimental effects of fracking and a whole lot of photos of dead cows, comes into town. Watching the tug of war that ensues to win the favor of the small population gets a little tedious, but the competitive dynamic between Steve and Dustin is one of the strengths of the film. Find out what else I thought of Promised Land when you read more.