Matt Damon rarely makes a bad film, but with a 49% rotten rating on review aggregator, Rotten Tomatoes, something has clearly gone wrong for his latest movie Promised Land.
Promised Land is about 'Fracking', which is a technique of drilling the ground to exhume natural resources from the Earth including oil and natural gases. Damon plays a salesman who is trying to buy rights for drilling in a rural American town, only to be met with great resistance, despite the money of the potential sales being needed after the economic downturn.
Clearly, this is a serious movie. However, as the New York Times says, that seriousness seems not to align itself with the movie's intentions: "Promised Land feels divided against itself, not quite sure how to reconcile its polemical intentions with its storytelling impulses, and thus finally unable to fulfill its own promise." Likewise, the Village Voice doesn't see the film's clarity saying it's "a hard-sell movie because it doesn't have the confidence in its audience to make any other outcome seem personally viable, to give the opposition a fighting chance or persuasive voice." The Los Angeles Times considers it to be contrived and "an echo of a convincing film rather than the real deal."
On a brighter note, however, Rolling Stone says that "Director Gus Van Sant finds the human side of a knotty issue." While the New Yorker gives probably the fairest judgement, arguing that "Whatever ambiguity the movie's core lacks is rebalanced at the surface; its organic textures are woven on a conspicuously synthetic frame."
Alternatively, the movie might not actually be all that bad, as the Wall Street Journal reported back in October, fuel companies were already worried about the potentially negative representation of an industry that they rely on. "We have to address the concerns that are laid out in these types of films," said Jeff Eshelman, a spokesman for Independent Petroleum Association of America. According to the paper, many energy companies have run campaigns to defend fracking against the environmental attacks against it. A spokesman for Promised Land has said: "We've been surprised at the emergence of what looks like a concerted campaign targeting the film even before anyone's seen it." In that light, it certainly does seem like a pointed attack.
Promised Land is released today in the US, in time to be included in nominations for the Academy Awards.