Monday, January 7, 2013

Promised Land

I saw this movie on Sunday and liked it, despite the poor reviews. Matt Damon and Frances McDormand play salespeople for the Global natural gas company, and they are sent into a small farming community to sign up landowners for leases to drill and frack. Hal Holbrook has a nice part as the local high school science teacher who points out the environmental dangers of fracking, and calls for a town vote about whether to allow natural gas drilling in their community. The local politician agrees to have the vote because he's pissed off that Matt Damon's character Steve lied to him about estimates of how much money the gas was worth. Steve is an interesting guy, who repeatedly claims that he's not a bad guy and who sincerely believes he's doing good for the farmers. Steve grew up on a farm and saw many townspeople thrown out of work when a manufacturing plant closed down; he considers natural gas to be a savior for farmers and other rural residents with no money, and he doesn't believe that the reports of environmental problems are true. Yet Steve didn't have a problem lying to the politician about how big a bribe he could get from Global, and he often tells opponents that they are up against a $9 billion company and have no chance of succeeding. Intimidation isn't foreign to him.

John Krasinski plays Dustin, who comes to town with environmental activist pamphlets. Dustin too grew up on a farm, and he tells a story about his crops being ruined and his cows dying. Making appearances at the local bar and at the local school, he wins quite a following among the town. Steve feels frustrated and threatened, especially since his job is at risk if the vote goes against Global. Sue tries to bribe Dustin to leave town, but he takes the money and just makes huge signs to post around town. Steve and Sue race around town trying to sign more leases and influence the vote. They even buy little league uniforms and throw a town fair to inspire goodwill in the community. (It reminds me of the very real corporate sponsorship we see all around in the Dallas area because we are on the Barnett Shale. There's also many TV commercials pretending to show different viewpoints about fracking, but really having the same opinion.)

Anyway, there's a lot more confrontations, and also a couple of light romances and flirtations with townspeople. When the town fair is rained out, Steve and Sue's truck won't start, so they are invited to take refuge at Hal Holbrook's farm. They have a fairly civil talk over dinner, and though they do not agree about fracking, Hal Holbrook's character recognizes that Steve is not some evil villain. Disagreement need not lead to demonizing. There's a couple of twists about the environmental group and how the vote turns out, and I enjoyed them. They were a good reminder that Global is a $9 billion company, and that Steve was naive to think any of this fight was ever in his control. It's the corporation that's the villain more than any particular character.

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