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Still shot from the movie: Promised Land.

Promised Land

If an offer seems too good to be true -- be wary! A representative for a natural gas company, Steve Butler (Matt Damon) promises farmers in a small community the opportunity of a lifetime -- but they soon realize it could cost them their lifetime investment in their land.

Overall Grade: B-
Violence: B+
Sexual Content: B+
Language: D
Drugs/Alcohol: C
Release Date: 03 Jan 2013
Run Time: 107
MPAA Rating: R

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In-Depth Review

There is no shortage of “cause” movies in the marketplace, and this last decade has seen a dramatic increase in titles that are less intent on entertaining the audience and more concerned about convincing viewers about a particular political or environmental position. In Promised Land the anything-but-exciting sounding topic of natural gas fracking is put on the hot seat after a couple of salespeople from a resource development company pull into a small Pennsylvania town and begin explaining a life changing offer.

Steve Butler, played by Matt Damon, has just received a big promotion from the gas company he works for due to his great success persuading farmers to sign over their drilling rights. Yet when Steve begins canvassing the rural residents surrounding this picturesque community we are left with the feeling that an easier job could not possibly exist. Each landowner is saddled with debt and diminishing agricultural prospects, then along comes this guy with the best lottery ticket in town. “You could become a millionaire,” he says in a way only Damon can deliver, adding the benefits of better schools, college educations for kids and a plethora of other perks that nobody can refuse. His sales cohort Sue’s (Frances McDormand) down-to-earth looks make her as easily trustworthy as the woman next door asking for a cup of sugar.

It appears to be a slam-dunk deal until a town hall meeting reveals their first naysayer. Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook) is a science teacher at the high school and his composed concerns about contaminated water and caustic chemicals gets the residents buzzing. His comments also open the debate about prosperity versus long-term environmental consequences that we are expecting in this movie. However when the real adversary shows up, in the form of an eager environmentalist (played by co-screenwriter John Krasinski), not only does any hope of exploring both sides of the issue seem lost but it also exposes a major fracture in this movie’s construction. Our lauded protagonist appears never to have experienced such opposition. (Really? It’s just a science teacher and a lone tree hugger in a pickup truck!) Frustrated, he drowns his sorrows at the town bar, which leads to a punch in the nose from a resident who is tired of the sales pitch.

The inclusion of over a dozen needless sexual expletives, the sole reason for the movie’s R-rating in the U.S., is a curious decision by the film’s creators. Selling audiences on the idea of spending money to watch a movie about natural gas fracking is tough enough without restricting what ages can attend.

Along with Krasinski, Matt Damon co-wrote this film, which quickly reveals his obvious concern (and bias) about this method of extracting a natural resource. While there are certainly potential issues with this new technology, by the time we’re done viewing this movie we feel, like the folks in this town, that we’ve been taken for a ride rather than educated on the issue.

Content Details: Beyond the Movie Ratings...

Violence: After a heated discussion in a bar, a man punches another man in the nose. Other verbal disputes are heard.

Sexual Content: A man makes a joking comment about being a stripper.

Language: At least 14 sexual expletives are included in the script. Other profanities, scatological slang and terms of Christian deity are heard throughout.

Drugs/Alcohol: A man engages in a drinking game in a bar (we see him the next morning and he can’t recall the past evening). A man drinks to alleviate stress.

Discussion Ideas: Talk About the Movie...

For more information on natural gas fracking, check this page from NBC News.

Do you feel the benefits of energy self-reliance in the U.S. outweigh the potential risks? What other energy sources have proven detrimental? Are there any energy sources without drawbacks?

Who do you think would be the most likely to pay to see this film: Those opposed or those supportive of natural gas fracking? Are movie theaters a good way to reach audiences that are not supportive of or familiar with a particular cause?

Video alternatives

Environmental issues are discussed in the following documentaries: The 11th Hour, An Inconvenient Truth, Flow and Fuel.

Home Video Notes

Home Video Notes: Promised Land

Release Date: 23 April 2013

Promised Land releases to Home Video (Blu-ray/DVD/Ultraviolet Digital Copy) with the following extras:

- The Making of Promised Land

- Deleted Scenes

Join the Conversation

About the Reviewer: Rod Gustafson

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