Acclaimed director Gus Van Sant returns to the big screen with a performance-driven drama that focuses on a small farming community as a big gas company sweeps the land with big buyout contracts. Matt Damon and John Krasinski lead this informative and engaging human drama that weighs in on the morals of doing what you think is right inside, even if it goes against everything that you’ve learned on the outside. Promised Land is a surprisingly well-made film that is worth the viewing.
Steve (Matt Damon) works for a large gas company that is currently sweeping through small towns and offering up the locals giant contracts in exchange for their land. His partner Sue (Frances McDormand) likes to take the laid back and easy approach, while Steve instead focuses on helping the people out as much as possible by offering them impressive amounts of money.
Steve isn’t like most people in his business, because he actually comes from a small town, which isn’t too far off from the one that he’s currently pitching to. This fact helps him remind himself of all of the good that he’s doing, or so he thinks.
A local teacher raises a lot of unanswered questions at a town meeting, which is only made worse by an environmentalist (John Krasinski) that stops in to help drive Steve out of town too.
Now, Steve is faced with lots professional and personal questions. He’s now reflecting on not just his job, but his life and everything that he’s done up until this point. Sometimes doing the right thing means going against everything that you’ve been taught to do.
Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land is almost a miracle in disguise. The film’s early trailers were rather dry and lacking, while reading any long-form synopsis will just reiterate that fact. The topic the film deals with is a hot one and one that has been widely discussed around the country, but the marketing for the film plays high on the cast list and not so much on the actual film itself.
Going into Promised Land had me worried. Fortunately Van Sant knows a thing or two about mining performances out of fine actors (and writers). Both Matt Damon and John Krasinski wrote and starred in the film, which makes complete sense when viewing their performances. The two characters are fully fleshed out and constantly engaged with each and every scene, despite the actual topics coming off as confusing or uninteresting.
It’s not the actual material that’s interesting, but the way Van Sant shoots it and the way Damon and Krasinski deliver it. Between the three men the film finds new life and slowly starts to grow into something much larger than another hot topic political picture.
Promised Land is much more personal, focusing more on family morals and decision-making — leaning heavily on the idea of doing something because you think it’s right versus doing something because others are telling you that it’s right.
What makes Promised Land even better is the third-act, which is properly built up and executed. One might not expect so much from a film that looked like it was about so very little. Van Sant tightly packages a few turns in the plot. Some might come as slightly predictable, but the intentions behind them and the result that they lead to only help Promised Land etch itself out as one of those under-the-radar films that you probably should have saw in theaters.
Matt Damon and John Krasinski turn in solid performances, taking turns playing the film’s brightest star, while Frances McDormand does fine work as the supporting lady.
Promised Land won’t wow you or downright amaze you, but it will impress you in ways that you didn’t think were possible. Maybe Van Sant fans have come to learn to expect this from the filmmaker, but whenever I see his name attached to something I usually keep the expectations low and grounded. Promised Land climbed above those expectations and gave me a drama that wasn’t too heavy, but still understood the importance of the characters and the story that they were completely apart of.
Promised Land comes to Blu-Ray with a very natural 1080p video transfer that highlights the film’s green color palette with a film-like presentation that is both rich in detail and layered in softness. Parts of the film might appear lacking, but I assure you that these are director intentions and results of post-production perfecting to help give the film a particular artistic appeal.
Almost the exact same thing can be said about the film’s 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Track. Nothing jumps out at you, but if you actually sit back and listen then you’ll notice the evenly spread dialogue and the subtle machinery noise. Everything is accounted for on this track, but nothing is really too loud or in-your-face.
The biggest letdown of the entire package is the lack of bonus material. Here’s a full list below:
- The Making of Promised Land (HD)
- Extended Scene (HD)
- DVD Copy
- Digital Copy
- UltraViolet Digital Copy
Promised Land is another impressive film by director Gus Van Sant. He’s made a name for himself directing well-made dramas and Promised Land is no exception. Don’t let the dull trailers or sometimes-confusing plot push you away from watching this film.
Matt Damon and John Krasinski help make the film stick, while Universal’s Blu-Ray transfer does a good job of making the film look and sound appealing. The lack of bonus material makes this more of a rental than a purchase, but make no mistake, Promised Land is very much worth a rental.
Gus Van Sant's Promised Land is an engaging performance-driven drama that works more often than not, thanks to Matt Damon's exploration of one's own morals and learning to live with decisions made.