CORPORATE INTERESTS Rosemary DeWitt and Matt Damon star in Gus Van Sant's Promised Land
Credit: Scott Green

Muckraking anticorporate message movies have been around for so long now that the good ones know we’re all too familiar with how they work. That’s why they have to throw us a few curveballs. In Promised Land, Gus Van Sant’s urgent, heartfelt, and not-quite-as-predictable-as-you-think environmental rabble-rouser, Matt Damon plays Steve Butler, a representative of Global, a $9 billion company that moves in on rural towns and buys them from the residents, all to mine the natural gas that’s trapped in shale several miles below the surface. The process of extracting the gas — fracking — is a chemical-drenched dirty business that leaves the land toxic, and the film’s disquieting theme is the way that fracking now feeds, parasitically, off our poor economic era. Damon, with his quick, darting sincerity, makes Steve not a bad man but a good man with blinders. He cozies up to the townsfolk (he thinks he’s helping them by nudging each one toward a minor cash bonanza), and the film’s first curveball is that he’s totally earnest about what he’s up to. The second one is John Krasinski’s sweetly tricky turn as the environmental activist who shows up to toss a big monkey wrench into Global’s plans. Damon and Krasinski co-wrote the script, and they do a nice job of giving the usual confrontations a gentle and surprising spin. B+

Promised Land
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