Skip to main content

Oregon Family Magazine

Misleading Promises and Unfulfilled Dreams

06/15/2013 22:40 ● By Sandy Kauten

Corporate salesman, Steve Butler, considers his mission.

Don’t let the ‘R’ rating fool you.  The powerful new film by Gus Van Sant, Promised Land, tells the story of our nation’s farming families betrayed by giant energy corporations and its rating by the Motion Picture Association of America is downright misleading.  One word, repeated a handful of times at the climax of the film, is deemed “excessive” despite the fact that the movie contains no violence, nudity, or other controversial images.  If the word were said only three times, the MPAA would label the film ‘PG-13.’  It’s an arbitrary standard that hopefully won’t preclude audiences from experiencing Van Sant’s entertaining and consequential work. 

Set in rural Pennsylvania, Promised Land follows Steve Butler, played by Matt Damon, as he systematically buys a small town for his employers, Global Solutions, in order for the company to drill for natural gas.  He and his canvassing partner, Sue Thomason, played by Frances McDormand, entice and cajole the poverty-threatened residents with promises of a better life if they sign away the rights to the land under their homes.  McKinley, a close-knit community of likeable characters, represents access to the state of Pennsylvania and its acquisition means a move up the corporate ladder for Steve.   

At a town gathering to discuss Global Solution’s presence, Steve and Sue are temporarily derailed by a savvy, retired engineer who exposes the dangers of Global’s drilling process.  With the arrival of an environmental advocate, Dustin Noble, played by John Krasinski, the race to influence as many residents as possible shifts into high gear.  Challenged at every turn, Steve finally acquires evidence that the affable Dustin doctored his proof of corporate wrong doing.  Even though Steve wins the battle, in the end he realizes he lost the war.  Through Steve’s introspection, Van Sant asks us to contemplate trading our heritage for convenience and technology.