Promised Land

Promised Land ★★½

Typically hamfisted, emblematic moment: Matt Damon makes hollow promises to the townsfolk at their first group meeting in close-up against a giant American flag. (ANOTHER SYMBOL OF FALSE HOPE PAPERING OVER A DARKER HISTORY.) Damon reprises Will Hunting, and his twitchy, irritably charismatic smartest-guy-in-the-room act is still great fun to watch. People keep telling him he's not a bad guy (when he isn't protesting that himself), though his character — a rural childhood casualty of the end of the industrial age, a sincere believer in fracking who honestly believes the many reported dangerous side effects are all just stoner hippie propaganda — is too ridiculously credulous to accept.

To be fair, it's not just "about" fracking: it's a State Of The Nation address, proposing to catalogue the many ways the American poor are screwed by cynical, much larger business interests. The problem is very What's The Matter With Kansas?: when will these people (very much "these people") act in their own best interests? A legitimate political analysis (arguably), but rather insulting when projected onto actual human presences (not least Hal Holbrook, tremblingly beaming for his Oscar). Watchable for an hour despite its evident faults largely thanks to Damon and Frances McDormand's rhythms, the usual Van Sant touches both good (shots through windshields spattered with interesting mud patterns, a camera's slow mesmeric drift between two mundanely conversing parties, jaw-dropping track following Damon from afar as he re-enters a dining room, complete with a minutely timed tablecloth deployment just as the camera's moving away) and self-parodically bad (the montages of small-town America look like Robert Frank reconfigured for a '90s Levi's ad). John Krasinski is appropriately smug as a nonetheless righteous environmental activist (but his plotline receives a jawdroppingly silly resolution), Rosemarie DeWitt does her adorable Cheshire Cat grin thing, and the last half hour collapses into noble nothingness. Oh btw Krasinski's character is named Dustin Noble. It's that kind of movie.