Opening 20 Jun 2013
On behalf of a natural gas company, Steve Butler (Matt Damon) and Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) have been sent to a rural community in Pennsylvania to buy drilling rights from individual property owners. There is no ‘Environmental Presence’ here and they expect this job to be easy and done with in a few days. Steve – from a poor farming community himself – truly believes it’s a win/win situation for the farmers, offering them a chance to better themselves financially. But the controversial gas drilling process proposed – ‘fracking’, short for ‘hydraulic fracturing’ – is met with some opposition even in this town. A possible risk to humans and livestock through groundwater-contamination seems a high price to pay.
Damon and McDormand give enjoyable performances but – although there is a surprising twist to the story – the film is strangely anticlimactic. It doesn’t come out strongly on either side of ‘fracking’ – apparently intentionally so. Matt Damon (who also produced and cowrote) stated that they didn’t want to take sides but start a discussion about the issue. The film has accomplished just that. Opponents and proponents of ‘fracking’ may be dissatisfied with the incomplete presentation of facts, but it brought this important subject via entertainment to the attention of many people. The film earned an ‘Honorary Mention’ at the Berlinale 2013 and received much media and Internet coverage for its subject matter. More people than the gas companies may care for now know about the 2005 Bush/Cheney Energy Bill aka ‘Halliburton Loophole’ that exempts natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act; or that a fracking group felt threatened enough to take the fight into the movie theaters and run commercials right before the feature Promised Land starts. (Carola A)