Reviewed by George Wolf
While old partner Ben Affleck is getting tons of award buzz with Argo, Matt Damon has teamed up with a new partner and a favorite director to produce Promised Land, an often intelligent and mostly satisfying environmental drama.
Damon wrote the script with The Office’s John Krasinski, and they also co- star as men on opposite sides of an effort to bring natural gas to a rural community outside of Pittsburgh.
Damon is Steve, a hotshot salesman from a behemoth gas corporation on a mission to convince the local residents to allow natural gas “fracking” on their property.
Some townsfolk are easily swayed by the dollar signs, but others, such as a local science teacher (Hal Holbrook) are not. Steve’s sales pitch becomes even more difficult when young environmentalist Dustin (Krasinski) arrives with plenty of evidence on how dangerous fracking can be.
Credit Damon and Krasinski with a thoughtful, even-handed script that effectively puts a human face on a complicated issue. Director Gus Van Sant follows suit by giving the film a folksy, pretension-free feel. This fictional community could easily represent different towns all across the country, each one dealing with their own issues.
The cast is universally splendid, with Damon once again showing his knack for chemistry with any and all co-stars. Krasinski gives his character surprising depth, particularly when he’s forced to fight dirty.
Promised Land offers much to like and plenty to think about, but falters at the finish line. A strong premise gives way to just another crowd-pleasing, idealistic movie speech, and you can’t help thinking it should have been better. 3 stars (out of 5)
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON
A Bill Murray presidency would be gleefully weird, wouldn’t it? Maybe that’s why he’s so perfect as Franklin Roosevelt in the charming Hyde Park on Hudson. If we are to believe this much nuttiness took place during FDR’s presidency, we’ll need a convincing nut in the lead.
The films invites you to attend a weekend visit from the King and Queen of England (wonderfully played by Olivia Colman and Samuel West). Between FDR’s wife, mistresses, mother, and fondness for picnic foods, the visit – meant to draw US support of England as Hitler’s menace looms – may not go as well as hoped.
For all its charm and fun inappropriateness, Hyde Park lacks focus, never deciding whether its interest is in the royal visit or in the relationship between FDR and his distant cousin Daisy (Laura Linney). The disjointed vision keeps the film from really connecting, although it is definitely an interesting slice of American history. 3 stars (out of 5)