‘Promised Land’ might have American director Gus Van Sant’s name next to the title, but in the execution it feels like less of a director’s project than films such as ‘Last Days’ or ‘Elephant’. It’s a good-natured but fatally underpowered drama written by actors Matt Damon and John Krasinski, both of whom appear in this story of a global corporation trying to persuade a small Pennsylvania community that what they really need in their lives is a spot of fracking. That’s the popular name for hydraulic fracturing, the controversial process of cracking deep rock layers to allow reserves of gas or oil to rise to the surface. It’s currently more of a live issue in the US and mainland Europe, but something we’re hearing more of in the UK.
Damon is Steve, an affable salesman looking to buy up land for exploration and using his powers of persuasion (which extend to cash bungs) to win over sceptics. Steve’s job becomes tougher when an environmentalist (Krasinski) rolls into town to remind folk that fracking has nasty side-effects, including pollution. Van Sant offers a warm portrait of smalltown life and there are some mildly knotty issues relating to Steve’s past which are just as mildly interesting to untie. Mostly, though, ‘Promised Land’ never feels more than a hot issue in search of a story, and the script’s attempts at firing up the intrigue never really catch light.