"Promised Land" - An experience that's alternately amusing and frustrating, full of impassioned earnestness and saggy sections. Director Gus Van Sant has the challenge of taking the topic of fracking and trying to make it cinematic. Working from a script by co-stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski, based on a story by Dave Eggers, he succeeds in fits and starts. The impoverished small town that's the tale's setting, a place in need of the kind of economic rejuvenation fracking could provide, is full of folksy folks whose interactions with the main characters don't always ring true. "Promised Land" has its heart is on its sleeve and makes its pro-environment message quite clear, but it's in the looser and more ambiguous places that the film actually works. Damon stars as Steve Butler, a salesman traveling the country on behalf of a bland behemoth of an energy corporation. Having grown up on an Iowa farm himself and seeing how an economic downturn can devastate a small town, Butler seems to be a true believer in what he's selling. But he's also a pragmatist, as evidenced by the playfully cynical give-and-take he enjoys with his partner, Sue (a sharp Frances McDormand). Famously for his efficiency in persuading rural residents to sell their land for the drilling rights, Steve runs into a major challenge when he and Sue arrive in depressed McKinley, Pa., where an outspoken old-timer (Hal Holbrook) and a flashy, charismatic environmental crusader (Krasinski) dare to question the company's methods. R for language. 106 minutes. Two stars out of four.
- Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic