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Promised Land

John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Rosemarie DeWitt and Matt Damon star in a scene from the movie "Promised Land."
"Promised Land" (Focus) is a reasonably entertaining message movie about the environmental dangers of drilling for natural gas using a method called hydraulic fracturing—or fracking for short.

To some, fracking represents an easy path to energy independence for the United States—and to vast wealth for those landowners lucky enough to have the proper deposits lurking below their soil. To others, it threatens the ruin of whole swaths of previously healthy countryside through the inevitable contamination of water sources.

On screen, the cards are indisputably stacked in favor of the latter view.

Steve Butler (Matt Damon) and Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) are a duo of energy company executives out to convince down-on-their-luck farmers in a rural Midwestern town to sell their land to the corporation. Their offer includes a percentage of future profits they glibly promise will transform the townsfolk's lives.

When the pair encounters opposition from Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook), a retired science professor, and from personable environmentalist Dustin Noble (John Krasinski), who launches a fervent campaign to thwart them, Steve begins to have second thoughts. His change of heart is also driven by his attraction to Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt), a local teacher whose regard Steve comes to value.

A gifted cast and smooth direction by Gus Van Sant help to disguise some obvious flaws. These include the homespun, all-too-pat wisdom spouted by Frank—though consummate pro Holbrook, to give him credit, almost pulls these moments off—as well as a late-reel plot twist that's nothing short of paranoid.

Fundamentally, though, there's no escaping the simplistic perspective and unmistakable anti-business bias underlying Damon and Krasinski's script. Moviegoers committed to scriptural values will, of course, appreciate the prioritizing of stewardship over greed. But the proper balance between the two may appear quite different when viewed from a failing Iowa homestead rather than a Malibu beach house.

The film contains about a dozen uses of profanity and much rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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