Sixteen years after their triumphant work on Good Will Hunting, director Gus Van Sant again gets to work with Matt Damon, the latter co-writing the screenplay with his co-star John Krasinski. Working from a story by Dave Eggers, Promised Land doesn't just take its title from a Bruce Springsteen song but indeed many of the themes the Boss has explored in his more recent work have found their way on to the screen.
Here we have a portrait of smalltown America practically on its knees, mired in recession and debt and desperately looking for a way out. That escape could come by allowing land to be used for the exploitation of natural gas, via the controversial process known as 'fracking', which can have serious consequences for the environment. It's the job of Matt Damon and Frances McDormand's characters, Steve Butler and Sue Thompson, to persuade wavering locals that all will be fine, with Steve in particular making full use of his own rural background to sway any doubters.
The slick way in which the pair sail through their patter on behalf of their corporate employers appears to be working yet again in a small Pennsylvania town, although at a town meeting an elderly schoolteacher (the great Hal Holbrook) puts the cat among the pigeons by detailing incidents where water has been polluted and land devastated because of fracking.
Waters are muddied even further with the arrival of environmental activist Dustin Noble (John Krasinski) whose good-natured bonhomie contrasts with the well-rehearsed but clinical pitch put out by Steve.
Promised Land works best when it deals with the smaller, more human aspects of the story. There's more than enough to savour in the way Damon's Steve is clearly having a crisis of conscience about what he's doing, and his tentative if not downright awkward wooing of local schoolteacher Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt) is thoroughly convincing and gives us a truer picture of the man he really is.
Likewise, there's a mischievous spark in an under-utilised subplot involving a local store owner, Rob (Titus Welliver) whose shop's motto is 'Guns, Groceries Guitars & Gas', who clearly has a thing for Sue.
All these elements are hugely appealing, and played perfectly, but unfortunately things go somewhat awry when Promised Land forgets the small stuff and has to remind us that it contains A Message, leading to a preachy and all too obvious conclusion which undoes much of the goodwill it had so carefully and cleverly built up. Still worth a look though. HHHII
LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED Comedy/Drama. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Trine Dyrholm, Sebastian Jessen, Molly Blixt Egelind, Paprika Steen, Ciro Petrone. Directed by Susanne Bier. Cert 12A
Hmmh, Pierce Brosnan starring in a movie which centres around a wedding in a beautiful, sun-dappled location – surely the makers of Love is All You Need couldn't be after the Mamma Mia! market? Well, at least we're spared the Navan man's not-so-dulcet tones this time around in a movie which takes some time to get going and then heads off somewhere you didn't expect at the beginning.
Brosnan plays Philip, a widowed workaholic who lives in Copenhagen and travels to Sorrento for his son's wedding to the daughter of a hairdresser, Ida (Trine Dyrholm). Having literally bumped into Ida at the airport, the pair are reluctantly thrown together as the preparations for the ceremony continue apace.
At this stage, the film plays out like some demented European soap opera, with clear signifiers that there'll be trouble ahead, but what director Susanne Bier eventually carves out is a truly touching tale of love and redemption, as Ida tries to deal with overcoming breast cancer and Philip comes out of his work-obsessed shell. The interplay between Brosnan and Dyrholm is excellent, with the latter stealing the film and giving it a dignity at odds with the occasionally farcical plot developments which occur. HHHII
EVIL DEAD Horror. Starring Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore. Directed by Fede Alvarez. Cert 18
You know how it is. There you are, out in a cabin in the deep, dark woods trying to babysit someone coming off heroin when you come across an ancient book, bound shut with barbed wire and lying on the floor of a basement strewn with animal corpses. Naturally, you open it up and have a gander. Oops.
Quite why anyone though they could improve on Sam Raimi's 1982 classic The Evil Dead is anyone's guess, but Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez decided to have a go anyway. In fairness, Raimi and the original's star Bruce Campbell are on board as producers so there is some sense of passing the chainsaw on to a new generation but whereas the 1982 film had a manic humour underpinning the mayhem, here the demonic activity seems to be more about gore.
In that respect, you'd have to say Evil Dead is quite efficient, as the splatter count mounts and
the cast of unknowns – all the better to slice and dice them – are despatched in increasingly gruesome ways. Expect a sequel. HHHII
KING OF THE TRAVELLERS Drama. Starring Michael Collins, Peter Coonan, John Connors, Carla McGlynn. Directed by Mark O'Connor. Cert 15A
Mark O'Connor's debut feature Between the Canals was an effective and laudable film, owing an obvious debt to Mean Streets but none the worse for that, as the protagonists went about their low-level criminal business on an incident-packed St Patrick's Day.
This time out, things aren't so good, with hardly an original idea to be found in this story of feuding Traveller families sorting out their differences through bare-knuckle boxing.
Michael Coonan from Love/Hate channels Brad Pitt in Snatch with De Niro's Johnny Boy from Mean Streets to thoroughly irritating effect, there are nods to The Godfather and Romeo & Juliet and, at one point, writer/director O'Connor shamelessly lifts Brando's 'I coulda been a contender' speech from On the Waterfront.
All in all, a dreadful, amateurish mess.
THE FRAMES: IN THE DEEP SHADE Music documentary, Featuring the Frames. Directed by Conor Masterson. Cert 12A
Let me state upfront that I've never had any time whatsoever for the music of Oscar-winner Glen Hansard and The Frames, but that doesn't mean that I wouldn't be prepared to watch a documentary which told a band's story and gave some insight into how and why they do what they do. In the Deep Shade is not that documentary.
Conor Masterson's film doesn't tell the viewer anything at all about the band, not even captioning the musicians as they speak to camera, nor – astonishingly – does it bother to let the casual viewer know that the lead singer has one of those Oscar statuettes sitting at home.
A baffling and rather arrogant piece of work, hardly helped by the fact that the music is bloody awful to boot.