The story line in the new theatrical release Promised Land is obviously intended to leave audiences with a very dim and scary view of fracking and the companies that use this new method of drilling to tap vast amounts of oil and natural gas that otherwise would be inaccessible. But the depiction in Promised Land is so fantastic that the intent could backfire. Indeed, by the end of the film, moviegoers may be left annoyed and offended by the blatant attack on fracking. Indeed, this reviewer was very annoyed. (Warning: spoilers follow.)
In Promised Land, Steve Butler (Matt Damon) and his associate Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand), representing drilling-giant Global Crossover Solutions, are assigned the task of getting the residents of a small town in rural Pennsylvania to sign leases for drilling on their property. This sets the stage for the inevitable confrontation with an environmentalist, Dustin Noble (John Krasinksi), who thinks Butler is taking the town for a ride.
At first Damon dons the mask of respectability. He expresses his belief that his job is far more than just a job — it’s a passion, a calling. He sees Global’s willingness to offer cash incentives to the town’s residents in exchange for their signatures as “a way out” of their current financial difficulties brought on by the recession. That’s why his success in closing such deals is three times that of his nearest Global associate.
Things go smoothly at first with citizens signing on the dotted line and visions of Global sugar plums dancing in their heads. One of the citizens purchases a high-end sports car and shows it off to Butler in anticipation of riches to come.
But when Butler is about to close the deal in the school’s auditorium with half the town present, the true agenda of the film is exposed. Retired school teacher Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook) begins asking questions that Butler (predictably) cannot answer. You know the drill: Fracking is dangerous; Global is the target of numerous lawsuits (why would that be, if the company is pristine?); peoples’ drinking water is at risk; etc. And how does Butler respond? Well, he lets the charges go unanswered. The implication, of course, is that the charges are true.
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