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"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.
"Promised Land" is directed by Gus Van Sant, with attention to the performances and real feeling for the environments that rural people inhabit - the open spaces, the quiet, and the tiny downtown with one store that sells everything and one bar where everyone congregates. Even if you've lived in a city your whole life, it's a world that feels like America.
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.
In addition to Krasinski and McDormand, who offer playful support, the movie gets boosts from Hal Holbrook, as the town's wise man, and Rosemarie DeWitt, who has never been so appealing - it's a dangerous charm to be able turn it on like that. 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.
We always feel as if we’re in good hands with Matt Damon. Whether he’s playing a coldly efficient killing machine of a secret agent trying to regain his memory in a spy thriller franchise or a grieving widower who actually buys a zoo to cheer up his kids in a winningly gooey Cameron Crowe film, we buy it. Is there a more likable, comfortable actor in movies today?
That’s why Damon is so perfectly cast in “Promised Land.” Like the townspeople trying to decide if this guy is their new best friend or if he’s bad news hiding behind a smile and a firm handshake, we want to believe he’s a nice guy and he’s doing the right thing. But is he a savior or the devil in blue jeans and beat-up boots?
“Promised Land” falls squarely into the latter category. It’s a solid, straightforward and balanced take on a controversial issue: the practice known as “fracking” (short for hydraulic fracturing), in which a pressurized mixture of water, sand and chemicals breaks up layers of rock and releases gas or petroleum. The economic benefits can be staggering — but what about the environmental and health concerns?
Damon is terrific as Steve Butler, an earnest, ambitious rep for a huge natural gas company called Global Crosspower. Steve’s mission is simple and seemingly easy: arrive in a dying farm town and offer big bucks in exchange for the right to drill on the land.
This is not some anti-fracking lecture from liberal Hollywood. If “Promised Land” doesn’t achieve the emotional resonance of “Erin Brockovich,” that’s in part because the heroes and villains aren’t as clear-cut. Until the final scenes, we’re not entirely sure for whom to root.
Filled with first-rate performances, most notably Damon’s, “Promised Land” is a solid if at times too conventional tale of a classic moral conflict. If Frank Capra were making movies in the 21st century, you could see him tapping Matt Damon as his go-to guy.
Damon and Affleck have both come a long way from their Massachusetts roots. He revealed to us that before the two “made it” with their Oscar-winning screenplay, they had at least one major letdown.
“In the summer of 1988 Ben and I had both been really close on Dead Poets Society,” said Damon. “We both had been called back. Neither of us, needless to say, got the job. But we ended up working in the theater in our hometown that played one movie the entire summer, which was Dead Poets Society. So we had to sit there and tear tickets and sell popcorn. That was really like salt in a wound for an entire summer.”
Still, with all his money and success, Damon has not let fame go to his head. The down-to-earth actor told us that all he wants for Christmas this year is to have his whole family together. And he and wife Luciana are raising their kids with the same humble values.
“Oftentimes we’ll open a bunch of gifts and [the kids] forget about them,” he told SheKnows. “They just like opening gifts. My wife will see it and she’ll set it aside and we donate them all later to other kids who will appreciate them a little more.”
Mid-interview, Blunt surprised John at his press day at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, and even dragged him into Damon’s interview room for a quick reunion where laughing and shrieking could be heard by all the reporters waiting outside. We’re guessing another double date was being planned, and perhaps reminiscing over past enchanting evenings.