Hydraulic fracturing might not be the most compelling subject for a movie, but it provides a topical backdrop for this engaging drama about ethics. It also lets actor-screenwriter Damon reunite with his Good Will Hunting director Van Sant for another strikingly well-made movie centring around a handful of strong characters. And while we know what the filmmakers feel about this contentious issue, at least the script isn't heavy handed about it.
The story takes place in a rural New England town, where oil company workers Steve and Sue (Damon and McDormand) are trying to secure the leases needed to drill for natural gas. The farmers badly need the cash to keep in business, but a retired science teacher (Holbrook) voices concern about the potential dangers of "fracking". He's joined by environmental activist Dustin (Krasinski) to turn the town against Steve and Sue's multinational corporation. And Dustin even starts to meddle in a budding romance between Steve and local teacher Alice (DeWitt).
The script is cleverly constructed to make us wonder who is telling the full truth. There are obviously risks associated with fracking, but have they been exaggerated by politically motivated campaigns? Damon plays Steve as a straight-arrow, a nice guy who genuinely believes that the process is safe. Meanwhile, Krasinski is a but more slippery as the grassroots voice of caution, and the terrific McDormand gets all the best lines.
Van Sant holds everything together expertly, shooting in an unhurried, confident style that captures both the raw beauty of the pastoral landscape and the earthy honesty of the townsfolk. So their economic turmoil and the hope the oil company offers create a genuine dilemma. Thankfully the film never descends into a full-on rant. Instead, the script takes a complex approach to both the big issue and the characters themselves. It may be a bit low key and slightly obvious, but it's a rare Hollywood movie that's simply designed to make us think.
Run time: 106 mins
In Theaters: Friday 4th January 2013
Box Office USA: $7.5M
Box Office Worldwide: $8.1M
Distributed by: Focus Features
Production compaines: Media Farm, Focus Features, Participant Media, Imagenation Abu Dhabi FZ, Sunday Night, Pearl Street Films
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 51%
Fresh: 74 Rotten: 70
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Matt Damon as Steve Butler, John Krasinski as Dustin Noble, Frances McDormand as Sue Thomason, Rosemarie DeWitt as Alice, Lucas Black as Paul Geary, Hal Holbrook as Frank Yates, Titus Welliver as Rob, Tim Guinee as Drew, Scoot McNairy as Jeff Dennon, Terry Kinney as David Stonehill, Johnny Cicco as Donny, Sara Lindsey as Claire Allen, Lennon Wynn as Lemonade Girl, Rosemary Howard as Spanish Teacher, John W. Iwanonkiw as Officer Breedlove
Also starring: Chris Moore
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