Fracking Causes Friction In “Promised Land”

BY ON January 4, 2013

Frances McDormand and Matt Damon in fracking movie Promised Land

Promised Land, a small film by Hollywood standards, stars co-screenwriters Matt Damon and John Krasinski. Directed by Gus Van Sant in the tradition of The China Syndrome and Silkwood, Promised Land uses mainstream entertainment to delve into American values, corporate responsibility, and activism.

The film comes equipped with top movie personalities like Frances McDormand and 87-year-old Hal Holbrook, wrapped in what Damon called “a relatable story with characters we all can recognize as people we know.”

Fracking movie Promised Land PosterDamon and McDormand are representatives of a fictitious $9 billion natural gas company called Global Crosspower Solutions—described as one of the largest in the country. Damon’s character grew up on an Iowa farm, but hard times hit his locality and he is now pursuing a lifestyle where he is ascending the corporate ladder. He and McDormand have been assigned the task of reaching out to local townspeople—to proselytize about the benefits of selling the drilling rights to their properties. The goal is to extract gas from the shale rock existing below the land, using the hydraulic fracturing process know as fracking.

It doesn’t go as smoothly as expected. They have entered an area where farms have been handed down for generations. The struggle for economic viability in the face of diminishing opportunities is palpable. This sets the stage for conflict. As Damon indicated in the press notes, “This is a complex issue that’s dividing a lot of communities right now.”

Krasinski, who portrays an environmentalist, sees the fracking debate as “the perfect contemporary lens through which to examine our questions of community and integrity.” He said, “Natural gas drilling is a contemporary issue that serves as a perfect backdrop to our story, which we set out to write as an exploration of modern-day American identity.”

Damon’s protagonist is forced to confront his deepest belief system. McDormand, a single-mother trying to earn a living, resorts to the rejoinder, “It’s just a job,” to rationalize her actions. Holbrook embodies the older generation as the homespun high school science teacher, who is revealed to be a retired Boeing engineer. His advice to his neighbors is to “go home and Google” the word fracking.

Gas development produces significant amounts of smog-forming pollution. Ground-level ozone or smog contributes to serious adverse health impacts, including decreased lung function and premature mortality, and it damages foliage. Children, the elderly, Americans with existing lung and heart disease, and those active outside are especially vulnerable.

An article in the Washington Post has suggested that a public relations pushback from petroleum companies, in reaction to the film, may be under way. Earthjustice explains here why fracking has come under fire.

Often, it is through popular culture that the public gets a look a topics that they have previously ignored in other forms of media. Promised Land is positioned to motivate filmgoers to learn more about the issue of fracking. From there, they can draw their own assessments about personal action and how their voices can have an impact on the future of the planet.

Moms Clean Air Force has started a dialogue about how fracking affects the air our families breathe.

Have you seen this film? Please JOIN MOMS CLEAN AIR FORCE and share your thoughts, concerns and solutions about fracking in the comment area below.


TOPICS: Activism, Air Pollution, Fracking, Natural Gas, Pennsylvania, Pollution, Social Justice

  • Shaun Dakin

    Thank You Marcia.

  • miche

    I’ve not see the film yet, but I hope to review it and put it on my blog.

  • cutout

    I have seen the film and agree with its anti-fracking message but really disliked it as a movie. Here is my take:

    The Promised Land is a simplistic film which does not live up to any promise. It will be welcomed by those who are against “fracking”, but it turns out to be purely propagandistic cinema – good vs. evil – starring MattDamon, a representative for a major Gas Corporation, who when we first meet him has been promoted to a high position in that company. Damon is so wishy-washy a character that I found him totally unbelievable having difficulty articulating his pro-fracking position as well as his shaky moral values. His partner in manipulating the populace is Frances McDormand – who is on her cellphone throughout most of the film, and does add a comedic presence to the movie, but not much more. I have heard better balanced anti and pro-fracking arguments on NPR than anything I learned in this conventional tale of righteousness.

    The debate pits an ex-engineer, MIT graduate, greatly admired schoolteacher- Hal Holbrook as the voice of the fracking opposition who makes much more sense explaining the insidious consequences of fracking than poor Matt Damon who in his one intense scene speaks to local townspeople about “fuck-you” money which he doles out to farmers who allow the Gas Company drilling rights on their lands. The Fuck-You money Theory (if you have money then you can say “fuck you” to obtaining student loans for your kids, “fuck you” to having a mortgage, etc) speaks to money buying you that freedom. Damon’s other “nemesis” is an “environmentalist” (John Krasinski) who starts a grass-roots campaign to make the townspeople aware of the dangers to their farms, their livestock and the drinking water, etc.

    The plot is predictable with a predictable love story thrown in, and a narrative that has to resort to a “deus ex-machina” ending that is manipulative, unrealistic and totally out of character with the earnestness of Damon’s early beliefs.

    I was groaning and muttering under my breath, not only with the lame dialogue but with some of Gus van Sant’s cinematic techniques that were so hackneyed that I could not believe that this was the same Director who did Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho, films that I have loved in the past.