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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Promised Land

By
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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John Henry Newman: John Henry Newman, the 19th-century's most important English-speaking Roman Catholic theologian, spent the first half of his life as an Anglican and the second half as a Roman Catholic. He was a priest, popular preacher, writer, and eminent theologian in both Churches. <br /><br />Born in London, England, he studied at Oxford's Trinity College, was a tutor at Oriel College and for 17 years was vicar of the university church, St. Mary the Virgin. He eventually published eight volumes of <i>Parochial and Plain Sermons</i> as well as two novels. His poem, "Dream of Gerontius," was set to music by Sir Edward Elgar.<br /> <br />After 1833, Newman was a prominent member of the Oxford Movement, which emphasized the Church's debt to the Church Fathers and challenged any tendency to consider truth as completely subjective.<br /> <br />Historical research made Newman suspect that the Roman Catholic Church was in closest continuity with the Church that Jesus established. In 1845, he was received into full communion as a Catholic. Two years later he was ordained a Catholic priest in Rome and joined the Congregation of the Oratory, founded three centuries earlier by St. Philip Neri. Returning to England, Newman founded Oratory houses in Birmingham and London and for seven years served as rector of the Catholic University of Ireland. <br /><br />Before Newman, Catholic theology tended to ignore history, preferring instead to draw deductions from first principles—much as plane geometry does. After Newman, the lived experience of believers was recognized as a key part of theological reflection.<br /> <br />Newman eventually wrote 40 books and 21,000 letters that survive. Most famous are his book-length <i>Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine</i>, <i>On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine</i>, <i>Apologia Pro Vita Sua</i> (his spiritual autobiography up to 1864) and <i>Essay on the Grammar of Assent</i>. He accepted Vatican I's teaching on papal infallibility while noting its limits, which many people who favored that definition were reluctant to do.<br /><br />When Newman was named a cardinal in 1879, he took as his motto <i>"Cor ad cor loquitur"</i> (Heart speaks to heart). He was buried in Rednal (near Birmingham) 11 years later. After his grave was exhumed in 2008, a new tomb was prepared at the Oratory church in Birmingham.<br /><br />Three years after Newman died, a Newman Club for Catholic students began at the University of Pittsburgh. In time, his name was linked to ministry centers at many public and private colleges and universities in the United States.<br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified Newman on September 19, 2010, at Crofton Park (near Birmingham). The pope noted Newman's emphasis on the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society but also praised his pastoral zeal for the sick, the poor, the bereaved and those in prison. American Catholic Blog God’s job, I think, is to keep lovingly disrupting our lives, and our job is to see if there are fresh opportunities for faith hidden within those disruptions. As a result, God keeps finding fresh ways to shake up our complacencies and challenge us to resist the seductive temptation to play the victim.

 
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