Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land was announced as a late entry earlier in the season. The film screened for critics and guilds and the word has been mute thus far. Many have just dismissed it as an unfocused, political statement film with no real message to convey. I’m here to state that those statements are in fact, false. Van Sant’s latest, penned by Academy Award Winner Matt Damon, John Krasinski, and Dave Eggers is beautifully relevant and smartly constructed around a central issue. It’s one of the pleasant surprises of 2012.
Damon stars as Steve Butler, a salesman for a natural gas company, Global, whose quick-talking mannerisms may have met its match in a small rural town where his company wants to tap into its natural resources. Matt Damon is terrific, showcasing much of the charm he displayed in Good Will Hunting (1997). He’s alert, managed, and utterly involved. It’s one of his better efforts in years. Co-star John Krasinski is what truly floors the audience in his role of Dustin Noble, a man fighting for the people and against the big corporation. Krasinski has shown a dynamic talent for acting in past roles in It’s Complicated (2009) and NBC’s “The Office.” He completely loses himself in the role and manages to upstage many of his fellow actors and delivers the best performance in the film and the best performance of his career so far.
Supporting actors Rosemarie DeWitt, Frances McDormand, and Hal Holbrook are all especially good as they manage with the material they are given. The screenplay is what allows this story to evolve into a timely tale and shedding some light on an issue that resonates in this country. Gus Van Sant unfortunately doesn’t take any artistic liberties as he’s shown in films like Milk (2008). He lets the story do its thing but never attempts to elevate it to the next level. He doesn’t sand down the rough parts that could have been capably corrected. The film is also cut in a way that has bumps in the road, not always allowing the viewer to stay with the story. What is technically sound, once again, is Danny Elfman’s brilliant score, that give all the high moments the emotional kick they need. While the messages conveyed are plainly obvious, in which may result in viewer’s being turned off, the only up front problem with the structure is some undeveloped characters and a trite and unconvincing love story, placed into the mix for no other reason then trying to bridge audiences that are either unfamiliar or uncaring about the issues at hand. It’s a bit lazy and a throw away of sorts.
Promised Land is still one of the most important films of the awards season on issues alone and worth a look by any political movie-goer.