When Matt Damon and John Krasinski set out to bring what Krasinski calls an “exploration of modern-day American identity” to moviegoers, the pair zeroed in on a tableau happening across the land — rural communities mired in economic conditions that virtually guarantee their extinction mulling modern-day solutions that could save them, even as those solutions irreparably alter the literal and figurative foundation on which the towns are based.
In the resulting film, Promised Land, the pair chose the current hot-button environmental issue of hydraulic natural gas extraction — better known as “fracking” — as the do-or-die dilemma of McKinley, a fictional Pennsylvania farming town. “This is a complex issue that’s dividing a lot of communities right now,” says Damon, who, like Krasinski, produced, wrote and stars in the film. “What better setting for us as storytellers to ask questions about who we are as Americans?”
Damon plays Steve Butler, a former farm boy who escaped his own tiny hometown and rose through the ranks of energy conglomerate Global Crosspower Solutions to become a top sales executive. Believing that his small-town roots uniquely qualify him to sell his company’s brand of salvation to the community, Butler soon discovers those roots have also instilled in him a inherent understanding of McKinley’s heartfelt longing to keep its farms and schools and streets a haven for future generations.
Butler’s primary foil is retired local science teacher Frank Yates, who believes that the decision to lease McKinley’s farmland to Global must be made by the community as a whole. Venerable actor Hal Holbrook, who took a break from touring his one-man Mark Twain introspective to make the film, plays Yates with enormous conviction. “I’m 87 years old, and I think we’re living at an extraordinarily critical time,” Holbrook says. “The whole idea of democracy is dependent upon people working together, and without compromise there can be no democracy.”
Krasinski and Damon say that they want Promised Land to foster a message of personal power and national hope — not a judgment about the merits or detriments of fracking.
“Audience members will make their own decisions regarding the issue, but our goal is to affect moviegoers — with emotion and humor — in dramatizing these characters making their decisions and facing up to challenges both internal and external,” says Krasinski who immersed himself in watching video of real communities debating the same issues as the film’s fictional McKinley.
“Promised Land is meant to catalyze conversation and reflection, and not to give out answers,” adds Damon, “though I do believe that there are hopeful ones out there.”
“The movie is about an ideal of America, and how that is still attainable here and now,” Kransinski concludes. “Matt and I are positive people, and at the heart of our movie is the belief that not only will things get better but that the only way towards that is to be all in this together. Luckily, the decisions are still in our hands.”
Promised Land is available starting April 23 on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.
© 2013 Focus Features