There have been many films and stage productions about salesmen. They often point out the sharks, the funny guys and the ones who truly need to make sales to survive. Steve Butler (Matt Damon) is kind of a mix of all of these in Promised Land. He’s a corporate salesman for Global Crosspower Solutions, a natural gas drilling company sent to McKinley in mid-town America to buy up farmer’s land so his company can drill on it.
Steve and his partner, Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand), hit another small town expecting to make easy work of reminding the townspeople they are struggling financially. They begin to make house calls and hang out at the local pub to get know the residents better. That’s where Steve meets teacher Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt) and the two have an instant spark between them.
Some of the farmers like Steve’s charisma when they learn he’s from a farming area, and buy into the idea of selling some of their land to the drilling company. At town hall meetings the majority is talked out of letting the company extract gas from oil shale on their property, with a not-stop appeal for the townsfolk to wake up and come to their senses by Frank Yates (played marvelously by Hal Holbrook.) Frank is the town's high school science teacher and a former R&D engineer for Boeing. He’s sincerely worried about his town.
Things get really messy when a hungry Dustin Noble (John Krasinski) shows up in town warning against listening to Steve and Sue because they lie about the damage the drilling will do to their property. Dustin and Steve end up going head to head not only at the local pub and town hall meeting, but also over Alice. She seems torn between which guy she believes is best for her and her own homestead in McKinley.
Damon originally wanted to direct the film but couldn’t so his buddy Gus Van Sant stepped in. Damon, a co-writer with Krasinski and story idea man Dave Eggers, gives a heartfelt performance of a man who must ultimately listen to his own spiels and set his own life course accordingly. Krasinski is also great at trying to undo any good Steve has done towards his goal. McDormand easily embodies every character she protrays.
Promised Land isn’t a movie one will rave about, but the story is interesting and one many can relate to these days, and the characters are heartfelt.
Photo Credit: Scott Green / Focus Features