Promised Land: Biased and charmless

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ZERO OUT OF FIVE STARS

This movie is rated R for language

The big fear everyone had regarding this movie was if it was going to be an entertaining story or if it was going to be a heavy handed political statement about the natural gas industry and their drilling process called fracking that some believe is dangerous to the environment.  Well, once again Hollywood does what it does in these situations and delivers a one-sided propaganda fest that demonizes the natural gas industry.

Let me say this right here and now.  I don’t have a stance on natural gas drilling.  It’s a big issue, one that I’ve devoted very little time to researching and fully understanding.  I don’t know if it’s the key to a cleaner planet or the doom of us all, but I know what this movie desperately wants me to think.

That’s what bothered me the most about this film — the hypocrisy of it.  It portrays the natural gas industry as a billion dollar bully that will say anything to charm people into believing what they want them to believe.  Here’s the thing.  That’s exactly what this movie is doing.  It’s emotionally manipulative, saying and showing you anything that will persuade you to believe what it wants you to believe.  And if there’s one thing average Americans enjoy, it’s having millionaire actors and filmmakers dictate our beliefs to us by way of a feel good movie about the death of the American heartland.

Enough ranting, let’s review the movie.  For a guy portraying someone who charms and sweet talks people for a living, Matt Damon is utterly charmless in Promised Land.  He’s a loathsome schlub from the opening moments until the painfully predictable final scene.  Damon is a superb actor, and it’s clear from the start that he purposefully portrays his natural gas peddling character as unlikable.

That right there is an annoyance, and an insult to the audience.  People with jobs like his aren’t unlikable.  They’re paid to be charming, and witty, and personable.  I’ve met natural gas employees with jobs like his, and I can tell you from first hand experience that they’re incredibly charming.  But not Damon, oh no, he needs to overplay the part to make sure that we understand just how soul destroying the natural gas industry really is.

Great stories can be told set around real world events and politically charged issues.  It’s easy actually.  All you have to do is to not have an agenda other than telling a great story.  Trust that the audience will make up its own mind about the issue, and just do the job of putting together a great story.  That’s something that Promised Land doesn’t do at all.  The plot is paper thin, the characters are all just parodies of what Hollywood thinks middle class Americans are like, and there seems to be no intention by the filmmakers to entertain the audience.

I’d be fine with a movie that portrays the natural gas industry as evil so long as the movie was good.  What I’m not fine with is propaganda parading itself as entertainment.  Believe however you want on the natural gas industry, but please, please, please don’t let a Hollywood movie be the place where you get your facts and form your opinion on the issue.

I give this one a zero, because below the thin veneer of soul searching close ups and lengthy shots of the American heartland, this isn’t even really a movie.  I can’t think of anyone who would enjoy sitting through this, except maybe for hardcore natural gas opponents who will delight in getting a big screen fantasy scenario to sit through showing a fictional natural gas company get a black eye.

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