Too refractory

This is my review of Promised Land [DVD] [2012].

Reminiscent of Erin Brockovich but not nearly as effective, this is one of those dramas on a topical environmental theme. Matt Damon plays Steve Butler, a salesman whose success in persuading hard-up American farmers to sign contracts with a major fracking company is based on personal experience. When the closure of a caterpillar assembly plant brought depression to his own home town, it was the cheques from a fracking firm's gas extraction that gave the local farmers the opportunity to buy their kids a decent education and escape to a better life.

Inevitably, the time comes when Steve encounters major local opposition. Although it is surprising that he and his pragmatic female colleague Sue Thomason seem so ill-prepared for this, the drama develops quite well, managing to portray the pair as both sympathetic and morally compromised. Despite other reviewers' criticisms of the ending, I found it contained a neat twist which prevented the film from ending up too corny or predictable.

There are entertaining scenes and wry touches but, perhaps because fracking is a dry subject, some incidents seemed pointless padding intended to "lighten things up" yet missing the mark. The direction struck me as wooden at times, and I often felt unengaged, although interested in the issue.

A sense of rural America comes across strongly. I particularly liked the homemade shop sign proclaiming, "Guns, Groceries, Guitars and Gas". The use of folky-sounding music in the background which proved to be Milk Carton Kids' tracks like "Snake Eyes" proved a welcome discovery.

I was left feeling this was a missed opportunity to create what could have been a gripping film, with the relationships between the main characters and the arguments on both sides more strongly developed. It was as if the director was scared of boring the audience and, lacking the courage of his convictions, undestimated them.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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