That's not to say that Promised Land is particularly bad. Set in rural Pennsylvania, Van Sant recreates the charming, movie-next-door mood from Hunting, with unhurried shot selection, strong characterization, and a satisfying blend of scene-setting and conflict-building. Like a Seinfeld stand-up act, the movie runs along with a certain fuzzy agreeableness, even if only one or two jokes truly land. The plot, too, begins with promise. Natural gas salesman Steve Butler (Damon) has built his reputation as the company golden boy. He can convince any rural community to sign with Global Crosspower Solutions, a precious skill all the rival gas companies envy. His secret? He "grew up in a large farming community," he says, with "football Fridays, tractor pulls, cow-tipping, all of it." He's the corporate businessman with the heart of a farmer.
As Butler pitches the townsfolk, the principal actors deliver a series of solid, if safe, performances. Damon's Butler tells just enough jokes and smiles with just enough dimples to earn viewers' sympathy. Rosemarie Dewitt plays the pretty girl at the bar with proper aplomb (though she deserves more than this one-dimensional role). Even Krasinski (playing environmentalist Dustin Noble) acts his way into a passable performance, shedding early-film nerves (I'm a blandly handsome guy! I played Jim in The Office!) to create a semi-memorable character by the movie's second half.
But like an afternoon of wine tasting or steamy summer fling, the film's problems only become apparent once it's all just about to end. After 90 minutes of smart environmental debate, the film abandons complexity in favor of a simple, heartwarming conclusion. You'll shed a couple tears during Butler's final speech: first for the man's stirring change of heart, next for the film's hasty retreat from logic. Not that you won't see it coming: on the predictability scale, Promised Land's resolution ranks somewhere between the sinking of the Titanic and destruction of the Death Star.
To be fair, there's a bit of tricky misdirection moments before Butler's final speech, a twist that works so well in the moment that you'll be surprised to find you barely remember it five minutes later. It's the rare surprise revelation that becomes less and less intriguing the more you think about it, like a Kardashian pregnancy or recent Shyamalan film. The best cinematic bombshells force viewers to reframe their understanding of everything that came before. Promised Land's twist simply hopes we'll be too busy scratching our heads to criticize the movie's convenient resolution.