UNI DIST CORP. (MCA)
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Steve Butler (Matt Damon), an ambitious salesperson for a natural gas corporation, has no doubt his persuasive skills will convince a small Pennsylvania town to allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in their backyards. But when an environmental activist (John Krasinski, The Office) tries to stop Butler's efforts--and woos a local teacher (Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister's Sister) that Butler feels attracted to--Butler's confidence starts to unravel. On the surface, Promised Land seems like a political exposé, but it's really a character study; Damon brims with confidence but slowly reveals doubt and conflict within. The supporting performances are excellent, including Hal Holbrook as a skeptical science teacher and the ever-superb Frances McDormand, both flinty and vulnerable as Butler's sales partner. Damon and Krasinski cowrote the script (from a story by novelist Dave Eggers) and smartly don't let the arguments get smug; moral curveballs get thrown whenever things seem too simple. The resolution is an uneasy mix of conspiracy theory and a Frank Capra movie, but the richness of the performances--guided by director Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk), who has an incredible eye for visual beauty--makes Promised Land as seductive as one of Butler's sales pitches. --Bret Fetzer