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'Promised Land': Matt Damon promises big, delivers little

Hollywood, on and off the screen, revels in portraying the little guy righteously standing up to the nefarious business interests. But how many people realize that those behind a movie might themselves represent interests -- particularly those financing the movie?

Such a question comes to mind even before a viewing of "Promised Land." It is even more salient after.

The small film with big names, directed by Gus Van Sant and written by and starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski, explores the contentious issue of hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking. The technique has been used to extract underground natural gas in the United States for more than 60 years without much controversy, but recent technological advances have made it possible to extract deeper shale gas horizontally. And with the increased production has come increased environmental concern.

'Promised Land'
Washington Examiner review: 2 out of 4 stars
Stars: Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand
Director: Gus Van Sant
Rated: R (for language)
Running time: 107 minutes

"Promised Land" does a decent job of explaining the process -- but a terrible one of giving an honest picture of it. Almost no time is spent listing the benefits of ramping up extraction of energy that is cleaner than many other sources and could provide Americans with well-paying jobs at a time when they're desperately needed. Much time is spent insinuating environmental problems that haven't yet been proved.

It's important to note that this movie with a message was partly financed by Image Nation Abu Dhabi. This company is a subsidiary of the government-owned Abu Dhabi Media, whose chairman is the undersecretary to the crown prince who serves on the board of the emirate's petroleum council. The oil-rich United Arab Emirates might make less money should the U.S. increase natural gas extraction.

That's something to consider when you watch this very one-sided film. As a work of art, "Promised Land" is just as predictable. Damon is engaging enough as the man a billion-dollar energy company sends to obtain permission to drill from the residents of an area of Pennsylvania farm country. He grew up on a farm himself, so he knows how to sell to these people. But as he says more than once, "I'm not a bad man." When he gets a promotion early in the movie, we know what he'll eventually do with it after spending a few weeks in the small town.

Krasinski is an environmental activist who comes to town determined to get the residents to reject the offers that could give their children a better life. And, inevitably, to steal the cute townie (Rosemarie DeWitt) whom Damon has fallen for.

What future the children will have without their parents signing gas leases, given the state of the agricultural industry in America, is not the concern of anyone in this movie or anyone who made it. Neither was making a realistic, original film.