‘Promised Land’ review: Damon’s depths by Mick LaSalle, December 27, 2012, The San Francisco Chronicle
“Promised Land” is a fine place to start appreciating Matt Damon, who always makes it seem as if everybody else is acting and he’s just going through the movie being natural. Damon is the actor who leaves no fingerprints, who never calls attention to himself and never, ever screws up, not once in 20 years. Whether playing Jason Bourne or Mr. Ripley, Damon creates an illusion of the familiar, and that familiarity is put to good use in “Promised Land,” in which he plays a salesman for a fracking company, trying to talk rural people into leasing their land for natural-gas drilling. He is paired with a fellow salesperson, played by Frances McDormand, who also radiates informality and trustworthiness. Once the contracts are signed, the natural-gas company will come in and everyone will get rich – maybe. Or maybe their livestock will die and flames will come shooting out of the water faucets. Damon and McDormand play nice people with high-pressure jobs and roots in the land they’re striving to transform. The question of the movie, a question they themselves must ultimately face, is whether they’re helping a farm culture survive or acting as the means of its extinction. … Written by Damon and John Krasinski, who plays an environmentalist (from a story by Dave Eggers), “Promised Land” is a measured, careful movie that doesn’t raise its voice and make broad claims, but quietly expresses concerns.
One concern, irrespective of the merits or dangers of fracking, is that the rural communities are no match for the natural-gas companies, with assets in the billions, and so their chance of getting unbiased, unfiltered information is doubtful. Thus, the film serves as a modest balance against that state of affairs, as well as a record of the moment in time when these decisions were being made. It’s curious to consider how this very topical film will be regarded in 20 years. … But in the end this is Damon’s movie, in that he’s the moral locus, the film’s center of meaning. It’s about time to consider the possibility that Damon’s appearing in so many good movies is no coincidence, that he’s a big part of what makes them good.