‘Promised Land’ goes easy on fracking issues

Steve Butler is an advance man for a natural gas company, a guy who swoops into a small town, dresses like the locals and paints large dollar signs in front of their eyes.

For “Promised Land,” this means we’ll be watching this very sincere, thoroughly committed corporate shill as our hero.

He’s played by Matt Damon, which helps a bit. But this idea of putting an unsympathetic fellow at the center of a movie is the most interesting wrinkle in “Promised Land,” which arrives as a pleasant and predetermined story with its heart in the right place.

Butler comes to the town of McKinley, Pa., along with his professional partner, Sue (Frances McDormand).

The locals they meet are generally happy to sign away their land in exchange for healthy checks and the promise of future rewards.

Complications emerge. A local schoolteacher (Hal Holbrook) suggests that fracking might have consequences even beyond messing up the land. An environmental activist (John Krasinski, who wrote the script with Damon) paints a dire portrait of what the gas company has left in its wake elsewhere.

And, in an amusing sequence that involves multiple shots of booze, Butler meets a local teacher (Rosemarie DeWitt, late of “Your Sister’s Sister”), who could show him a thing or two about appreciating the western Pennsylvania land he’s so eager to frack.

“Promised Land” is directed by Damon’s “Good Will Hunting” partner Gus Van Sant, who assuredly has on his mainstream cap here. Van Sant manages to keep the movie honest in spots where it might have gone in the direction of simple propaganda or salt-of-the-earth bromides.

As it is, there are a few of those. The script isn’t able to disguise how thin its actual story is, as though the impulse to make a movie about the issues involved with fracking for natural gas predated the somewhat stock characters on display.

Still, it’s an easy watch. Damon, DeWitt and McDormand carve out little human shadings for their characters, and the small town environs have a good feel to them: front porches and backyards alike have a pleasing authenticity.

Most of the plot points are easy to predict, although one late-in-the-day revelation is a pretty good twist.

And “Promised Land” doesn’t, after all, aggressively promote one side of its issue, although given the solid liberal credentials of its makers we can probably assume which side they’re on.

No, it promotes a more old-fashioned notion that people might be well-advised to think about things before making big decisions.

Pretty tame, really, whatever the motivations behind it.

“Promised Land”

A pleasant enough if predetermined movie about a natural-gas rep (Matt Damon) who comes to a small Pennsylvania town to sell the locals on the profitability of fracking the land. Gus Van Sant’s mild film has nothing more radical than “think before you act” on its mind, which might account for its tame demeanor, but the cast (Frances McDormand and John Krasinski included) and the rural locations help the process along.

Rated: R for language.

Showing: Meridian.

More in Life

Ice queen: Local women’s hockey team founder is fearless

Leslie Tidball’s fearless competitive spirit keeps her going strong in ice hockey at 64 years old.

Sarita Viramontiz attempts a start off the blocks during an open house at the Granite Curling Club Sunday night in Seattle on February 18, 2018. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)
Granite Curling Club hosts open houses to teach the Olympic sport

With the 2018 Winter Games wrapping up, the club expects its informal classes to fill up quickly.

How to entice a wide range of winged friends to your yard

A Tulalip Bay couple shares how they encourage birds, bees and butterflies to visit their garden.

You can bird-proof your home to prevent window deaths

Studies estimate that billions of birds die after crashing into glass in the U.S. each year.

American horror: What can we do to prevent mass murder?

There isn’t a single cause or a single solution for deathly shootings like the one in Florida.

Making chores fun: Clean up the kitchen in five easy steps

“Zone cleaning” is to do one step at a time, which means that chores aren’t overwhelming.

Discovering the romance of Germany’s Black Forest

Avoid the tourist traps and immerse yourself in the region’s charming countryside.

Growing up: Some plants go through changes not unlike puberty

Arborvitae, junipers, spruce and pines, for example, exhibit juvenile and adult characteristics.

Decorated ceramic pig bares famous Wemyss Ware trademark

Very early flower-decorated pigs from Wemyss Ware have auctioned for over $30,000.

Most Read