At first glance, Promised Land looks a little like a superficial dramatization of Gasland to me. I hope Van Sant and company make me eat these words as I fully anticipate this could be a gripping drama that makes startling, if liberal, points about the state of America today. It feels like this film, together with Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, and Argo, is really tapping into the zeitgeist of a heated moment in our nation.
Van Sant has the chops to see this drama through to highly successful ends as exhibited by Good Will Hunting, Milk, and Finding Forrester. If the director wasn’t so interested in venturing into altogether esoteric realms, he might be seen right now as one of the most “money” directors working in mainstream Hollywood. When he goes studio, he tends to hit it out of the park.
As for Oscars, I think this film might sink rather than sail. Participant Media has had some success in the non-fiction world when it comes to awards, but I suspect this one might be a bit too didactic/on-the-nose for some voters (especially the conservatives of the bunch). If anything, I could see this going the way of Acting and Writing.
That said, there does seem to be a dichotomy brewing in this trailer. Matt Damon plays a potentially good man whose going to bat for the “dark side.” This kind of thread always has the potential to elevate otherwise one-sided material into universal artistry. Time will tell.
For fun, here’s the to Josh Fox’s wonderful Gasland (full feature):