Green Room

The Hollywood activist formula strikes again

posted at 10:10 am on December 16, 2012 by

My friend Phelim McAleer was never going to be a fan of the movie Promised Land.  The film, financed in significant part by money from the United Arab Emirates, takes aim at the American natural-gas industry, and Phelim himself challenged cast members Matt Damon and John Krasinski over the conflict of interest inherent in that arrangement.  The New York Post published Phelim’s review of the movie, which is as negative as you’d expect.  But Phelim points out something specific about Hollywood’s activist-didactic formula that is so overused and cliched that one would expect it to have become almost satire, if Hollywood wasn’t so deadly dull and full of its own assumed moral superiority:

You can see this in Steve Butler, the character Damon plays. At the film’s start, he’s intelligent and witty; Steve knows people and knows his business. He has all the answers as he goes from home to home, reassuring people looking to lease their land for fracking — a process that removes oil and gas from previously-inaccessible rock.

But then, on his last job before he takes a big promotion, he comes up against Krasinski’s character, environmentalist Dustin Noble. Noble produces wild stories of farms polluted and destroyed from natural-gas drilling and warns the locals that this will happen to them if they let the gas company into their area.

This is when “Promised Land” starts to falter. Suddenly, Steve transforms from someone who’s seen and done it all in the gas-drilling world into a stammering fool who can’t come up with a decent sentence in defense of his industry.

Damon’s character should say that environmental activists have been caught time after time lying and exaggerating about fracking — often as part of multimillion-dollar lawsuits. He should point out that no peer-reviewed scientific study has ever shown that fracking contaminates water.

But no, half way through the film, when any real drilling hand would have plenty of answers, Steve suddenly turns into a stammering, inarticulate fool. The character becomes unrecognizable.

This inexplicable change sucks the life out of “Promised Land.”

It doesn’t make sense in the movie — but it’s understandable when you realize that, in real life, Damon and Krasinski are anti-fracking ideologues. Damon spoke out publicly against the process some time ago; Krasinski has now done a long anti-fracking rant on David Letterman’s show.

They probably don’t know the arguments Steve should make; they certainly don’t want to hear them, nor could they really allow any criticism of the environmental movement in the film, since it would undermine their own ideology.

How many times have we seen this formula in Hollywood films?  Pretty much every time Hollywood wants us to pay $10 a head for their social/political/economic lecture series.  These aren’t works of cinematic art; they’re the equivalent to the cheap college psychodramas put on by campus activist groups, only with a lot more money behind them, and they’re just as tiresome and vapid.

I watched Wreck-It Ralph last night with my granddaughters and had a great time.  I doubt that I’ll even bother with Promised Land when it comes to the free movie channels on my cable system.

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