I must confess that I cheated when I went to the movies this week. My friend's choice was DJANGO. When we arrived at the theater, the manager informed us the heat was off. This was a two hour, 50 minute movie, and I couldn't handle Tarantino and freezing temps. The manager was gracious; he gave us free popcorn and a free drink and allowed me to see PROMISED LAND while my friend enjoyed his choice in the arctic.
PROMISED LAND sounds like another message or political movie, but it is much better than that. It deals with the controversial subject of fracking and considers both the pros and cons of that process in obtaining "clean" natural gas instead of coal and oil. Matt Damon has perfected playing the common man, a man with purpose, a conscience, and doubts. He may be the Jimmy Stewart of our time. Here he plays Steve Butler, an advance pitchman for a huge oil company. His co-worker Sue Thomason is a single mother played by Frances McDormand (FARGO). Both are warm, humorous characters who believe in what they are doing, but things don't go smoothly. The smartest man in town is a crusty old science teacher embodied by who else--Hal Holbrook. He asks for a vote by the townspeople to be held in several weeks. Then a seemingly gung-ho environmentalist (John Krasinski) turns up the heat of opposition. Steve finds himself in a battle for his career but he also finds himself doubting the validity of what he is selling. The film is thoughtful, sincere, and dramatically engaging without being preachy, and Matt Damon (co-writer) deserves the lion's share of the credit.
However, I still had 40 minutes to kill and no book to read, so I sneaked into the icebox and endured the end of DJANGO, a potboiler that is one part spaghetti western, one part MANDINGO (a ghastly exploitation film from 1975), and three parts torture, bloody violence, and sadism. Django has teamed up with a German bounty hunter, and together they plan to rescue Django's wife from a half-crazed plantation owner (hammed to overkill by Leonardo DiCaprio). SPOILER: he achieves his goal only after killing dozens of nasty white slavers, being brutally tortured himself, blowing up the plantation, etc., etc. Like Tarantino's earlier films, this one revels in its excess and leaves no lasting moral lessons. Avoid at all costs...even a free admission. You've got to wonder what the Academy was thinking when this stinker was nominated for Best Picture along side LINCOLN, LIFE OF PI, and LES MISERABLES.