I’ve said it before when I saw The Train (1964) after seeing The Monuments Men (2014), the same applies to Local Hero (1983) after seeing Promised Land (2012). Each pairing of films sharing the same basic themes. It just so happens that Burt Lancaster is in the better and Matt Damon is in the not so-good films. Just an observation as both are capable actors. I think it comes down to the writing on both scores. So with observations out of the way, why was the superior earlier film of Local Hero far better than Promised Land?
Both have an environmental message to get across, one oil, the other gas through fracking. Big corporations send out men to hopefully negotiate the sale of all the necessary land to make the plans come to fruition. Local Hero is far softer on the message front when Mac (Peter Riegert) is sent to a Scottish coastal town to buy up town and surrounding land. Whilst in Promised Land it’s Steve Butler (Matt Damon) who has to persuade a more savvy farming town to sell up and move on. You have to also consider that there is very little mention of environmental issues in the earlier film. There is discussion of how the land could potentially be used, to research marine life with Marina (Jenny Seagrove) who also acts as an intelligent love interest for Mac’s colleague love-struck Oldsen (Peter Capaldi). It’s not really shared with the small fishing village who think their ship has finally come in. Made during the time of another recession, the smell of money is not something to be sniffed at.
If anything Local Hero is played more for laughs and gentle ones at that, it’s a small community who are practically cut-off from the world. Whilst in farming America there is a far stronger tone of environmentalism going on. Families have previously been affected by Fracking so will take a harder stance against an outsider coming in and wanting to buy up the land and possible pollute it, killing livestock. Fracking is still a very young technique which doesn’t have the security of Oil drilling pumped on or off-shore, its assumed to be safe (for the most part). Also looking at the two strangers who enter into their respective towns. One comes to want to stay, even with all the negotiating that goes on with Urquhart (Denis Lawson) who wants the money, knowing what it means for everyone. Unlike Butler who puts on a front, wanting to get in and out as quick as possible. He does develop and conscience unlike his colleague (Frances McDormand) who see this as just another job doing what she believes to be done in order to secure the land. A harder person unlike Butler.
It’s a harder sell overall for the community and for the audience, I came away not really caring for anyone. Whereas in Local Hero you get to know the people who populate this town, it’s very provincial, an old world community which we have less and less off. You want to spend more time with these characters. Even when we meet the stumbling block at the end, the beach which is owned by Ben (Fulton Mackay) who holds the message, he doesn’t preach, open to discussion, his age makes it harder to negotiate with. He even offers to take a pound for every grain of sand in his hand. He’s not bothered by the money, he know the land in away that the others don’t care about, they’re blinded by money. Not they that they’re blinded by Felix Happer’s (Burt Lancaster) money, they aren’t even made out to be the bad guys, wanting a better life for themselves. Moving back to retired teacher Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook) who uses his knowledge as a weapon against Butler and the town gets behind Frank.
We have progressed since the early 80’s in terms of how we discuss environmental issues, we have become more sophisticated as an audience. Our knowledge of the subject has increased, of course there will always be the odd horror story which we do have to accept. But at the heart of these two films you must have heart to engage with the audience, something we have, even at the top of Local Hero in Lancaster who by the stage in his career is in a minimal role really. However his enigmatic presence is felt throughout the film. He’s a man who has his faults, his interest in the stars, in short he’s human. Whilst in Promised Land it’s just about getting the job done or get fired. There’s no room for any manuever there, it’s so corporate that we are left cold. The oil man in Lancaster talks very little about his business, even willing to get his hands dirty. However its all down to Mac who as much as he wants to do his job, he’s won over from the big city for the country life that he had seen as so alien, he’s awoken to know what he wants in life, has he reached the same point as his boss, without the freedom to go out and grab it just yet, trapped by his job and obligations. It’s a film of understanding one another, to be open to change in your life, even when it may come in the form of a corporation.
It’s been over a week since I’ve sat down and felt like talking about a film. Additionally I have been waiting a while to catch Promised Land (2012) after catching the trailer over a year ago, hoping it would be shown at the local cinema. That chance didn’t arrive. The premise of the film, going from the trailer was interesting, a small farming town is targeted by a big gas corporation in the hopes of buying up the land to begin the controversial tracking which has come to prominence in recent years. Of course the process has been going in for longer that we all knew about it. There are plans to start drilling for natural gas in the UK too. Naturally wherever there is fracking proposed there is opposition, the side effects of the process which can have side-effects. No-one but the scientists really know what the long-term effects are of this new process. A process that could potentially ensure our energy future, the of our reliance on fossil fuels which has caused global-warming. There is a lot to discuss.
That’s before we get to the human cost of such a move into a community. This is where Promised Land comes in when two salesmen are given the job to sell the idea of selling the drilling rights to a gas company before another one gets in there. Should be straight forward for sales professional Steve Butler (Matt Damon) and his colleague Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand). It should be just another job. Selling the idea of a better future to this farming community hit by the financial crisis. On paper it sounds like a good idea.
That’s until opposition turns up in the form of old grouch Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook) except he’s not a grouch, loaded with knowledge about the tracking process which scares people at the town meeting which would otherwise would have gone well. Throw into the mix the good old environmentalist Dustin Noble (John Krasinski) who comes armed with evidence of nothing but death for another farm. I mean how can you argue with that? Dead cows in a field to farmers who know only livestock and crops, to see that would be enough for any farmer to turn away a salesmen whose only interested in the money.
This all goes back and forth for a while with a pointless love interest Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt) that feels tacked on to give Butler more of a human side, away from the desire to make this communities lives better. Coming from a farming background himself, I can’t understand why he’s even in the job after seeing the same thing happen to him. It just doesn’t add up to me. Whilst his partner Sue sees this all as another job that has to be done.
And then comes the twist at the end, concerning the environmentalist, it’s all one big campaign really to persuade the town how to vote. I lost my faith in the film here. Why couldn’t we let the community decide for themselves. What we got was corporate manipulation on a mass scale, just what do we believe. It’s all too contrived for me, causing complete loss of faith in the film, I just stopped caring about the salesmen, and even the people really as it just didn’t matter what happened.
- Film Review: Promised Land (2012) (a-mighty-fine-blog.blogspot.co.uk)
- Cinemashrink: Promised Land, (2012) (newtopiamagazine.wordpress.com)
- Promised Land (2012) – Brilliant Communication through Cinematography (jacobsfilms.wordpress.com)
It has been sometime since I have seen a Coen Brother film, having seen almost all of them. I knew vaguely of The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) which when you think of Joel and Ethan Coen‘s films you think more of Fargo (1996) and The Big Lebowski (1998). Yet when you place this film up against Barton Fink (1991) and Millers Crossing (1990) it makes a lot more sense. One of the few films made in the last twenty years to be made in black and white, not just a simple removal of colour, but a creative choice that opens up a new world to explore, set during the summer of 1949 when one man, an outsider enters a world that is out of his depth, Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) seems to drift into situation after situation without any real emotional attachment to the events as they unfold, he’s just there. Which makes sense when you look at the title. For the first Bob Thornton film (after giving up on A Simple Plan (1998) which saw a far wackier character)
We found a man settled into a marriage of convenience working as a barber with his brother-in-law. Whilst his wife Doris Crane (Frances McDormand) who works at a department store is having an affair with her boss Big Dave Brewster (James Gandolfini). All this is very clear in the noirish narration by Bob Thornton in a dead-pan voice who sets the tone for the entire picture. Which on first watch we have no idea where we will find Ed Crane. It’s all in the slow build up that brings us to each event. This is the first real event that is on the simmer when the idea of entering into a dry-cleaning business. Now everything is starting to intertwine with each other which makes for a rich plot.
The first major blow in the film is the murder that sees Ed’s world turned upside down, he’ll go to prison and then that’s it, curtains for our character who just wonders. That’s until you remember we’re in the hands of the Coen’s and so comes the first big twist that leaves you shocked at what our characters are capable of, before slumping back into the dull-drums of life. Set within the stylized world of film-noir lighting and cinematography that makes such a dull film on the surface so rich, engaging and different from other films. The audience has to be more patient with this slow burner of a film that just keeps on teasing out little bits, events and characters that make the running time worth it.
Ed’s main fight is to see is wife freed from certain death, with the best lawyer in the area Freddy Riedenschneider (Tony Shalhoub) who is a man aware of his own reputation, letting that lead his case more than his litigation skills, which makes for some bewildering scenes that Shalhoub steals. Turning then to a young Scarlett Johansson who in her minimal role as a young family friend Birdy Abundas a girl who Ed really takes a shine to, seeing hope in her that he has lost in his own life. The potential for a better life is in this small part, and Johansson really comes into her own, a few years before she has greater success with Lost in Translation (2003).
Overall this much forgotten film is very much the two brothers experimenting with film more, the look of an old genre and placing that into their screwed up world where again, nothing make sense before it does make sense. It’s not going to set the world a light, but it will do what the brothers are good at, keeping you on your toes, never knowing where it will lead you next. There are some touching moments visually that are a treat for the eyes. If only it was seen in the same light as their better known work.
- Movie critical review : ” The Big Lebowski “ (nicolaslesausse.wordpress.com)
- The Best Music Moments from the Coen Brothers (ragingfluff.wordpress.com)
- Review #1 Barton Fink (jeaclements.wordpress.com)
- NYFF 2013: Coen Brothers, John Goodman, Oscar Isaac Talk ‘Inside Llewyn Davis” (reellifewithjane.com)
- The Coen Brothers: Awards and Nominations (fergusbaynesfilmstudies.wordpress.com)