Friday, December 28, 2012

Stoking the Fracking Fires in 'Promised Land'

WHAT becomes the fate of a film that starts controversy before practically anyone has seen it. Will it be a hit or a miss?

That is a question that applies to “Promised Land.” The film makes its world debut today in limited release in the United States and will continue to roll out across the world through 13 June 2013, including a stop for its official international premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival ( in February. (See video above.)

The main reason that “Promised Land,” headed by Matt Damon and Frances McDormand, has generated controversy is because it deals with the hot-button issue that is hydraulic fracturing, which is more commonly known as fracking.

Simply put, fracking is a process by which natural gases are extracted from rock formations in reservoirs. Controversy enters the picture because it is claimed by many – especially environmentalists – that the chemicals used to help extract the gases contaminate drinking water and cause health problems.

Sue and Steve (Frances McDormand and Matt Damon) arrive in a downtrodden town with a deal that seems too good to be true in "Promised Land." Photos by Scott Green for Focus Features.

Naturally, companies involved in fracking and their surrogates disagree. Both sides are trying to win local and state officials to their cause. Fracking is a big issue in states like New York and Pennsylvania, where “Promised Land” was filmed.

There is an interesting backstory to the film. First, it was supposed to address wind power. But at some point it was determined that fracking was more topical and sexy. Again, controversy can potentially help the film at the box office because it creates buzz.

While the producers behind the film have not overtly sought to stir controversy, their “Promised Land” is a film that has Oscar and other award pretensions (and rightly so, for it features solid work), which brings up a second point about the backstory.

Not only does MD star as Steve Butler, the company man dispatched to town to lockdown the drilling rights deal, he is also a producer and co-screenwriter of “Promised Land” with John Krasinski (from a story by Dave Eggers). The latter also stars in “Promised Land” as an environmentalist who is just as savvy as MD’s Steve. The last time MD had a co-screenwriting credit on a film (“Good Will Hunting” with childhood friend Ben Affleck), he won an Oscar, his first and only so far.

Third, “Good Will Hunting” was directed by Gus Van Sant, as is “Promised Land.” Fourth, MD was originally onboard as director of the film but had to step down owing to a conflict at which point he approached GVS with whom he had not worked in a decade (“Gerry”).

There is more to the “Promised Land” backstory but the aforementioned will suffice. Incidentally, as Steve, fracking opponent MD is playing against type. He’s rather credible, though, as a former-farm boy-turned-corporate-enforcer who is prepared to use any means necessary to secure the deal unless other forces in town, led Frank Yates (Hal Halbrook), can stop him and Sue Thomason (FMcD), his partner in slime.

Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Steve (Matt Damon) eventually warm up to each other in "Promised Land."

Another potential force in this down-on-its-luck town is Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt) who may capture both Steve’s heart and soul.

“Promised Land” is rated R. Visit to learn more about the film.

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