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Promised Land

If you enjoyed last year’s negative political ads, you’ll love Promised Land. Except, when you saw the ads, you were told who paid for them.

The messages of Promised Land concern obtaining natural gas via the process known as “fracking.” Message #1 is that the natural gas companies are ripping off farmers by offering lowball payments for the gas beneath their properties. Message #2 is that fracking is an environmental threat.

Promised Land features Matt Damon and Frances McDormand as gas company agents who descend on a small Midwest farm town. At a town meeting, a local geezer played by Hal Holbrook rains on the parade of riches the farmers and the townsfolk anticipate by mentioning the dangers of fracking. John Krasinski appears as an environmental activist who opposes the gas company. He also is also Damon’s rival for a bit of romance with a local barfly/schoolteacher, played by Rosemarie DeWitt.

The script, written by Damon and Krasinski, presents its messages in an entertaining fictional narrative. Promised Land will likely reach a larger audience than would a message documentary such as those made by Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock.

But with any message movie that is totally one-sided (like Promised Land), my suggestion is “be skeptical.” Things are rarely as black and white as they are sometimes presented. (Another incidental message of this movie is “beware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.”)

Damon and Krasinski deserve credit for bringing attention to what may or may not be an issue worthy of your consideration. On the other hand, the manipulative story telling is so heavy handed that it has the feel of a negative political TV ad.

Who is behind this movie? Who benefits most should its messages resonate with a significant number of citizens? The coal industry? Electric utilities? The Sierra Club? Farm communities? Monsanto? People with existing natural gas wells? Stay tuned to find out.

Promised Land had the opportunity to open the country’s eyes to a possible environmental danger. But because the message is so clumsily delivered, the film is likely to resonate mainly with those who are already tree huggers and not so much with a general audience.

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