The conversion story in Promised Land is sometimes a hard sell
Salesmen are typically depicted in screen drama as the quintessential American phonies. That one set of phonies is being dramatically indicted by actors is an irony that we will leave hanging. Promised Land's phony, played by Matt Damon, travels to small towns to sell the folks on fracking, the controversial practice of pumping toxic chemicals 8,000 feet underground to loosen up natural gas. He explains that this is a matter of his common touch with locals, and his approach assumes that all of flyover America is essentially the same. "I can't believe this is right outside the city; it looks like Kentucky," says Sue (Frances McDormand), his partner. Steve responds, "Two hours outside any city looks like Kentucky." The latest town is different, though. Dustin (John Krasinski), a worker for an environmental agency, goes door-to-door with a story about how fracking killed his family farm. The PR war is waged through Steve and Dustin's competition over a local schoolteacher (Rosemarie DeWitt) and in the town's social centers. Promised Land (title courtesy Genesis 15:18-21) is essentially a conversion story in which the cynical Steve is swayed to the small-town independence he's first heard scoffing at. Director Gus Van Sant is in his deft director-for-hire mode. Like Steve, Van Sant knows how to display the common touch, but the movie is a hard sell whose ending is never in doubt.
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