Can Gus Van Sant and Matt Damon Make Good Drama out of the Fracking Debate?

Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 24 2012 4:06 PM

Can Matt Damon and Gus Van Sant Make Good Drama out of the Fracking Debate?

damonfracking
Matt Damon in the trailer for Promised Land

Promised Land has quite a pedigree: John Krasinski had the original idea for the movie, and he hired novelist Dave Eggers to write the first draft. Krasinski then took the Eggers script to Matt Damon, and the two revised it together, eventually bringing Gus Van Sant on board to direct. Krasinski and Damon star, with Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Hal Holbrook rounding out the cast.

But the real star of the movie is clearly the debate about fracking, the controversial drilling technique that has been hailed as an economic boon and reviled as an environmental nightmare. To highlight both sides of that debate, Krasinksi and company have dreamed up a story in which the man selling fracking to a hard-up farming town is himself a one-time small town guy who is definitely not evil—just misguided, probably. When Hal Holbrook speaks, who dares to disagree? And what he tells the salesman figure, played by Damon, is, “You’re a good man, Steve. I just wish you weren’t doing this.”

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Message movies can be done well—consider, for instance, the films of Hal Ashby—but they have a tendency to become schematic, and this trailer makes Promised Land look like a victim of that tendency, albeit one that’s buoyed by some pretty appealing performances.

If, by the way, this movie looks too anti-fracking for your tastes, there will, supposedly, be an alternative, though probably one with fewer movie stars.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.