Against just about everyone’s recommendation, I went to see Promised Land. The theater was not full, although the theater complex had it’s share of customers. Most people went to see Les Mis or Silver Linings Playbook or The Hobbit. Here are my quick reviews of those: Les Mis: If you are a fan of the the stage play, you may be disappointed as I was, if not, but you like musicals or opera, go see it. The Hobbit can probably be summed up as Lord of the Rings without Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler and David Wenham, and who’d want to see that? I still want to see Silver Linings Playbook.
All that being said and done, here is my pitch to you of Promised Land. I’m going to pitch it as if it’s my screenplay, and you’re my Hollywood producer contact.
But first the bottom line on top: The smear campaign against the movie calls it preachy, bloated, factually incorrect about fracking, and just a plain old bad movie. Not only are these reviews wrong, the claims pretty much illustrate what the writers are trying to say to us about how conservatives sell their agenda.
Here’s my pitch:
The logline of a movie is the one-liner that screenwriters use to pitch their idea to potential producers. It’s supposed to be a shapshot of the premise with irony. Movie loglines are not generally distributed to the public, and are not to be confused with the tagline which is. However, they say the logline can be usually be gleaned from the movie poster. In the poster for Promised Land, Matt Damon, playing Steve Butler, the gas company fracking salesman protagonist, is looking over his shoulder. The tagline above is: “What’s your price?” I’m going to say the logline is: “A young man who lost his own farming community sells his own loss to other farming communities as their last best chance for survival.” Or in Save the Cat terms, it’s about a guy from a rural community that was lost when the plant closed, who now survives by selling short term thinking to people in other rural communities as their only hope to avoid his fate.
Steve Butler will tell you, he’s not a bad guy. He the protagonist for pete’s sake. He’s the golden boy of Global Crosspower Solutions, just chosen to be its new regional manager. His partner is devoted single mom, Sue Thomason played by Frances McDormand. The pair travel around the country, costume as the locals, and sell natural gas leases to people unsure of their future.
As most successfully pitched screenplays go, the protagonist goes through a character arc. He starts out in one place with flaws, does his thing in the first half to get from place A to place B, confronts many antagonists, from his own flaws to other people with opposing goals, fails, learns his lesson, changes, and gets to place B, or perhaps place C which is better than place B. If the protagonist is Matt Damon, he usually gets a girl along the way, but not before he loses her. Yes, Steve Butler has his character arc.
Antagonists? There are several. First, there’s the truck rented by Sue that frequently fails to start. Then, there’s the girl, Alice, sweetly and sarcastically depicted by Rosemarie DeWitt. Alice plays coy, and puts Steve through a town hazing rite. Then she depicts all the traditional love-interest behavior expected since the days of Shakespeare. But, Alice is the character who gives us the theme of the movie: It’s about learning how to take care of something even when it’s not easy. High school science teacher/retired Boeing engineer, Hal Holbrook’s Frank Yates, is the science establishment’s representative, but a gentle antagonist to Steve Butler. He gets the science, and he gets the economics. Partner Sue is another antagonist as she has her own competing love story, and interest in that promotion.
Eventually, perhaps a bit later than needed, enters super-antagonist, Dustin Noble, rival for the hearts of all the movie’s young women, Alice, her friends, her young students, and all the women in the audience, played by John Krasinski (and his teeth). Krasinski plays the environmental activist who bests Steve Butler every time. He’s a smart alec who seems to have all the moves, and all the answers. Given what this movie is supposed to be about, he should have been the protagonist, shouldn’t he? Well, there is something off about Dustin Nobel, and if you’ve ever done any activism yourself, and I’m sure many of you reading this post have, you’ll notice it just like Steve and Sue notice that there something just a bit off about the horses.
In a real pitch to a Hollywood producer, I would not be shy about revealing the twist, or the end, but this is a review, and I do want you to see they movie, so I’ll stop here on the story description. But, here’s the rest of my pitch:
Word of mouth on Promised Land is that, even if you’re against fracking, this movie is just bad, and not worth your time. Fracking proponents wanted it to be a big, bloated, false-fact-laden attack on them. But, there are only two short scenes attempting to explain fracking. One is the Holbrook’s very short scene advising the townspeople to ask questions before signing on, and the second is a comedic bit Krasinski’s Dustin Nobel does in front of school children, and it’s not exactly what it appears to be. Some claim writers Damon and Krasinski are laughing at the people in the community, the American idiots. That’s not true either. The people who sign on with Global are not vilified. They represent the Americans whose American dream has died, and who do what they think they have to do for their families.
The one criticism that is true is that the movie was, in part, produced by Image Nation, a division of Abu Dhabi Media. The argument the frackers make is that this movie was made to smear fracking, and promote oil for the nation of UAE, as if natural gas and oil are the only energy possibilities that exist. The same critics don’t seem to be too disturbed that Men in Black 3 and The Help were produced by the same company, and what that might say about what happens when the money is sucked out of a country and expensive projects like film making have to be funded out of the country. Promised Land is part of a multi-film partnership Image Nation has with the other producer, Participant Media. They say they don’t care what the subject matter is when they choose the scripts. Their next joint film is a horror movie about an American oil company executive.
When the movie turned out to be a quieter statement that anticipated, giving both sides of the issue, and creating no real villains, the pro-fracking community ignored the reality, and continued on with their pre-release meme. Just Google the title, and you’ll see what I mean. But, writers, Damon and Krasinski (and Dave Eggers who came up with the original story along with Krasinski) were more clever than they are being given credit for in the reviews. They made their little quiet movie, and in doing so, it seems to me, they baited their opponents, and their opponents took the bait. Opponents of the movie have done exactly what we in the left-leaning activist community have come to expect of them. They don’t’ make their case by being correct, or telling the truth. They win, when they win, by reducing choices, and personally smearing individuals in the opposition. Global warming is false because Al Gore has a carbon footprint. The Clinton tax rates were bad because Bill was a cad with women. No need to ask questions about fracking because fracking opponents are all backed by the UAE, and dare to depict the American people stupid. There’s no honest debate on the issues, and there are no real choices. That is what Promised Land is about.
I give the movie 3 1/2 cat treats for a well-structured script, and setting things up so the chips will fall as they may (and usually do).