Written by Liz Thatcher and Julia A. Seymour
Even with its plot twist, Matt Damon’s “Promised Land” is more of the same Hollywood anti-fracking propaganda we’ve seen before. And it isn’t even great propaganda. It made only a little more than $4 million its opening weekend, putting it at number ten in the weekend totals, right behind “The Guilt Trip,” according to Box Office Mojo.
Ironically, Matt Damon doesn’t think he made a biased movie and claims to have just wanted to start a conversation on the subject. At least, that’s what he told The Morning Caller, a Lehigh Valley, Pa. newspaper. “Nobody wants to go see a movie where they get a message at the end. That really wasn't our intent. It was just to show this moment in time in our country, and what happens when big money collides with real people, people who are struggling on the back end of a recession.” Damon knows what “real money” is, after all he’s worth $65 million according to Celebrity Net Worth.
While he’s right that hydraulic fracturing is a big issue at this moment in time, the message his movie sends over and over again is that big energy companies, natural gas in this instance, will say and do whatever is necessary to drilling rights through deception and downright lies.
It portrays the companies staff preying on farmers because they are poor and bribing officials. In contrast, the local opponent of fracking, Frank Yates, is shown as an amiable, wise and well-educated man who teaches science for fun and raised miniature horses. Farmers, at least those wanting to lease their property for drilling, were shown as yokels and suckers.
In the film, Damon plays Steve Butler, a pitch man from Global Crosspower Solutions, who heads into a rural (presumably Pennsylvania) community with his partner Sue Thomason, played by Frances McDormand. As soon as they arrive they are shown buying flannel shirts and other clothes “to blend in.” Deception. Later, Butler is shown to have lied to a politician he paid off about how much the gas underground is worth. Lies. He is also called “an asshole” at least three different times in the movie.
At a town meeting, Yates tells everyone to “google the word [fracking]” and calls it a “dirty business,” with the “potential for error too high.” Much later in the film, he tells Steve “You came here offering us money trying to help us. All we had to do is scorch the earth beneath our feet.”
In one of the most powerful scenes of the film, Krasinski, playing an environmentalist Dustin Noble, goes into a classroom to show kids how he claims fracking destroyed his family’s farm. He has model of a farm, and mixes chemicals in a bag and then proceeds to pour the chemicals all over the model. Then he lights it on fire, showing what fracking would could do to the farms the children live on. The oversimplified demonstration reinforces the oft-repeated myth that fracking makes water flammable, as Josh Fox implied strongly in his anti-fracking documentary “GasLand.”
Of course the real life facts about hydraulic fracturing are rarely mentioned. They do call natural gas a cleaner energy source, but horizontal drilling and the fracking process get slimed. Nowhere does the film acknowledge claims of water contamination in Dimock, Pa., has been investigated and the EPA says the water is uncontaminated. Or that some anti-fracking activists have been outed as frauds -- such as the video of the flaming house water pipe from Wolf Eagle Environmental Engineers in Texas.
Investigative journalist Phelim McAleer has his own movie about fracking that will be aired on AXS TV channel on Jan. 22. In September 2012, McAleer said that the script for “Promised Land” was being modified in light of misrepresentation on the part of anti-fracking activists. Now that “Promised Land” is in theaters the plot twist that may have been an attempt to reconcile the movie and reality is apparent.
Noble, the environmentalist character who persuades many to vote against fracking on his personal word that “the land just died,” turns out to be a fraud -- secretly employed by the same company as Butler: Global Crosspower Solutions. So in the end, the natural gas company was behind ALL of it, including the fake environmentalist so that once he was outed, the town would vote to allow fracking.
“Companies like Global don’t need anyone. They play both sides,” Noble tells Butler.
Even that conspiracy isn’t helping the film win over reviewers, even left-wing ones. Variety.com called the movie “dramatically underpowered” and stated that the plot “cheapens the seriousness of the issues at stake.” Editor and journalist Holman Jenkins reviewed the film for The Wall Street Journal on Dec. 12 saying, “Filmmakers may be ideological numbskulls, but their real problem is often that they are cowards, too afraid of their friends to make an interesting movie.”
Not even the Huffington Post is in love with Damon’s movie. On Jan. 4, author Raymond Learsy published a blog critical of “Promised Land” saying it was “meant to frighten Americans, and whomever, to resist the development of shale gas in their communities.” He even noted what was missing from the movie. “No mention here of long suffering communities of Pennsylvania who have celebrated an economic renaissance,” he wrote.
A few have tried to promote the film, including one reporter who wondered if this movie would have any effect on the Texas legislature’s decisions on the issue. Rolling Stone magazine gave the movie three stars and called it a “potent and powerful look at how the stressed economy is stressing farm communities.”
SOURCE: MRC, the Media Research Center
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