Promised-Land-Poster

This anti-fracking movie was passable, but conventional and obvious.  It commits the sin of repeatedly talking about the issue.  Battles of words are a bit light on the hard evidence.  With exposition-heavy issue films, many viewers are going to be turned off, and Promised Land’s ratings hover near the 50% mark – perhaps a glass half full?

The good thing about the movie is that it is the first to tackle the hydro-fracking pollution in a widely-released drama.  The crux of the problem is clear, but the contrived plot created around it is simplistic at times.

Spoilers

Covert deception by corporate thugs is actually a positive thing here.  With green-washing and disinformation employed, the plot attempts to add a layer of complexity.  This leaves it up to the main character, Damon, to remain the last arbiter, the only one with the power to set the record straight, the only truth teller who matters.  As Damon becomes uniquely privy to the reality of the situation, he must choose whether to be a whistleblower, or to become a glaringly evil corporate thug, the “bad guy” he has railed against being for the entire film.

promisedland

Dramatically, this should have worked, but in its execution it felt a little flat.  Perhaps it’s because of the reliance on speechifying and hokey identification anecdotes.  The film is awash in farmland nostalgia and tractor culture.  Not a recipe for wowing the rest of us.  It’s a “heartland” tale with some stereotypes, the usual rural denizens we expect.

I think of a film like Erin Brockovich, a similar issue-oriented drama, and one that is highly–rated and appreciated.  The issue was essentially the same one, the pollution of water by a giant energy corporation, but the execution was far more dramatic and desperate.  Erin Brockovich was a wise-cracking heroine saving the children, whereas Damon is a plainspoken, misguided anti-hero for much of the film.  His goal is to fail, to flip, to be wrong and to get a clue.  It’s much harder to sympathize with the story when we’re rooting against the protagonist.  He’s not a very interesting protagonist either, rather simple and ignorant, a devotee of Mammon who believes money is the answer to all problems.  So he’s not a very engaging guy, rather one-note, and the plot simply sets him up to fail.

Now, a potential positive that Damon had going for him was that of evil Luciferian tempting the farmers to sign in their own blood.  Farmers are recruited to betray their own farms, their own environments, their own morality for money.  This potential strength worked only so well, but it could have been exploited in a more black comedy, satirical fashion in an edgier film.  If Damon’s character was truly evil, and he knew exactly what he was doing (as he probably would, someone in his position, the Vice President of a large fracking outfit), then we might have gotten an engaging tale of destruction, of “scorched earth,” in the words of Damon’s opponent, the local high school teacher.  Unfortunately, black comedy and satire are well over the heads of most Americans.

The far more interesting guy is the antagonist, a supposed environmentalist who shows up in town to do battle with Damon.  Unfortunately, their exchanges don’t come off as authentic, but contrived.  This is clearly a manipulative film with the hands of the writers still in the shots, off in the background somewhere.  It’s a good effort to make the battle between the two a deception – elaborate theater – but a major flaw in the film is that the environmentalist makes too good a case for this to be believable.  By using a real incident, a real destroyed farm in his propaganda, the issue is clearly decided.  The revelation that this was not his personal farm, and that he was a liar has no bearing on the issue itself.  If this fake environmentalist actually did work for the gas company as a disinformation specialist he would never, ever have voluntarily released such damning, incriminating evidence.  It just doesn’t work that way.  There’s a reason gag orders silence the victims of this fracking assault.  The cover-up is taken very seriously indeed.

The desire to shoehorn the fake environmentalist deception into some kind of plot overlooked the reality of the situation and made it implausible.  Therefore, it weakened its own message.  More research could have provided them with a more authentic take on the fracking issue.  But, then again, it worked for half the audience.  So, what can you say after the fact?

 

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