"Too unremarkable and forgettable on the whole, as a feature that barely survives the journey home..."
As Ben Affleck continues to thrive and develop as a presence behind the camera within Hollywood – his former writing partner Matt Damon, whom he worked with on Good Will Hunting, is yet to have quite the same impact behind the scenes since their collaboration, and having co-written the screenplay for his latest feature Promised Land – alongside John Krasinski – it seems that Damon may have been better off calling upon his old partner for help, as Promised Land is a somewhat tedious and underwhelming feature film.
Directed by Gus Van Sant, Promised Land focuses on Steve Butler (Damon), a successful corporate salesman for the natural gas company Global, working away from home with his colleague Sue (Frances McDormand) to sell their product to a rural farming town in Pennsylvania. Despite the promise of large amounts of money for the drilling rights to their properties, the townspeople aren't so sure about the idea, and when environmental activist Dustin Noble (Krasinski) turns up to campaign against the big corporation, it appears that Steve and Sue may have to prolong their trip, although when Steve meets Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt), perhaps that isn't the worst idea after all.
There is an important overriding environmental message to Promised Land, and the themes are dealt with delicately, as the filmmakers ensure that their opinions are not forced on to us, with the message remaining sweet and subtle – even if the romantic sub-plot does undermine the message somewhat, but this is a film after all and a customary romance is inevitable. There isn't a definitive right or wrong in this instance, as the viewer is put right into the middle of a conflict where you struggle to take a side in particular. The reason this is the case is because effectively we view this ordeal through the eyes of the villain, and both Damon and McDormand turn in terrific performances to ensure that we find the humanistic traits in them both, and appreciate that they're simply doing a job. To enhance this sentiment, Dustin Noble is smug and annoying, and we can't help but hope that he fails in his campaign. It's an interesting conflict of emotions, as although we know the natural gas proposition is an unethical one, initially we root for it nonetheless as we want our protagonists to come out on top.
There are few actors as adept at playing the every man role so well as Damon manages, as he ensures the viewer sympathises and identifies with the part. Where he differs to George Clooney in Up in the Air, for example (another character in a somewhat undesirable job), is that we forget it's Damon. We see him solely at Steve Butler, as opposed to Clooney, where you spend the vast majority of the film thinking, “That's George Clooney”.
Despite the positives – that of a host of strong performances, and a touching narrative of one town uniting together to take on the form of the underdog and battle against such a big money making corporation, regrettably Promised Land is just too unremarkable and forgettable on the whole, as a feature that barely survives the journey home. A real shame given the credentials of the man in the director's chair. Perhaps they should have given that role to Affleck too.