Friday, December 28, 2012

Review: Promised Land

If M. Night Shyamalan made a movie about gas companies' pillaging of the heartland, Promised Land would be it. Meaning there's a "swing away" twist at the end that tries to explain everything but ends up pretty much ruining any credibility and relevance in the story instead.

If you see the movie, slip the projectionist a tip and ask that he dumps a soda on the equipment with 20 minutes left. You'll walk out of the theater without a resolution, but will at least be better off than those who are stuck watching the aliens get killed by water.

New "it" couple Matt Damon and John Krasinski teamed up on the screenplay and play rival tastemakers who storm a small town, manipulating the folk into voting their way on the issue of whether to let a giant energy company frack them long and hard, letting the town splash natural gas all over its farms and water in return for millions of dollars.

Damon, along with trusty sidekick Frances McDormand, is the big gas suit sent to use his silver-tongued devil charms to trick the yokels into the deal, while Krasinski is the idealistic hippie there to stop him with his goody bag of guerrilla tactics, while also finding time to pull a few outrageous pranks on Dwight.

Locked up in a game of spy vs. spy, Damon and Krasinski make for some entertaining one-upsmanship. They lock horns at a karaoke bar — unfortunately not in a singing competition, though — fight for the favor of a teacher/bar rat (Rosemarie DeWitt) and talk some crazy smack as they struggle for the soul of a confused, real-life FarmVille.

Director Gus Van Sant, who boosted Damon to stardom in Good Will Hunting, has the hunting part down pat here, but has a little trouble arranging the goodwill. This is one of those impassioned message movies that makes its point early on, then beats you over the head with it, haphazardly acknowledging the shades of grey without admitting they have any validity. The considerable star power and writing talent goes to waste, but it's to be down on a movie that's so watchable for most of the running time.

Promised Land has a lot of the pieces necessary for a watershed movie. I wish there had been less Shyamalan and more Ben Affleck, I guess. A little organic humor wouldn't have hurt, either. Because I also wish I had a double burger.

Starring Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand and Rosemarie DeWitt. Written by Krasinski and Damon. Directed by Gus Van Sant. 106 minutes. Rated R. 

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