Christopher Ashley on Gus Van Sant’s ‘Promised Land’

Eye on the Oscars: The Director Preview

Some subjects beg to be a movie. Fracking is not one of them. A magazine article, a pamphlet, a leftist protest rally all seem natural vehicles to explore the environmental risks of blasting water and chemicals deep underground to extract natural gas from shale. How then to explain how very much I enjoyed this movie. It must be the total commitment of the entire creative team to the truthful, detailed humanity of its story. The acting is engaging from start to finish, with particular kudos due to the always-extraordinary Frances McDormand. The writing is subtle, with a beautiful twist ending, but the film also has the huge advantage of Gus Van Sant at its helm.

I am a longtime fan of Van Sant at his wildest: “My Own Private Idaho” and “Drugstore Cowboy.” This film has much more in common with his work on “Good Will Hunting” or “Milk.” He has directed with an eye toward telling everyday detail and a vast feeling for the struggles of everyday life in America. The pleasures of this movie are finally less about agit-prop and politics, and more about compassion.

Christopher Ashley, artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse, helmed the Broadway production of “Memphis,” as well as the tuner’s current national tour.

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