5 January 2013 10:30 AM, PST | Slackerwood | See recent Slackerwood news »

The politically charged Promised Land is a far better movie than it could have been, given that issue-oriented "message films" are sometimes little more than preachy, plot-thin polemics.

Fortunately, Gus Van Sant's drama focuses more on its plot and characters than on the issue behind the story, the natural gas extraction method known as "fracking." While no doubt a message film, it soft-pedals its politics -- and even acknowledges the issue's complexity -- while delivering an interesting story.

Promised Land is the story of Steve Butler (Matt Damon) and Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand), two energy company sales executives dispatched to the rural town of McKinley (the state isn't specified) to convince the locals to sell natural gas drilling rights to their properties. Butler and Thomason expect their job will be an easy one; McKinley has long been economically depressed, and they're offering what seems like large amounts of money to the town's ever-poorer residents. »

- Don Clinchy

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