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Damon walks the walk, talks the talk with 'Promised Land'

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By Rick Bentley
Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

With his new movie “Promised Land,” Matt Damon wants to get people talking about whether it's OK to do something that could have long-term risks if it's a solution to an immediate problem.

In the script Damon co-wrote with “The Office” star John Krasinski, the question is posed around the story of a natural gas company representative who comes to a small farming community with the promise of riches. His company wants to purchase the rights to do fracking, a process that uses high-pressure liquids to create cracks in rock layers for retrieving gas and petroleum products. There would be an immediate economic boost for a community where many farmers may lose their land. But the fracking could cause environmental problems that could ruin the land.

The film deals with a specific problem, but Damon sees it as a representation of a broader look at what's going on in America right now.

“We were talking about American identity and where we've come from, where we are and where we're headed. We knew that we wanted to have a hopeful ending and we wanted it to be a pro-community, pro-democracy kind of movie,” Damon says. “The point at the end is that if you don't get involved in the decision, it's going to be made for you. No one wants to go see a movie where they get a message at the end. That wasn't our intent. It was just to show this moment in time and the stakes when big money collides with real people who are struggling on the back end of a recession.”

Krasinski started the script with author Dave Eggers, but he needed a new writing partner when Eggers had to switch focus to write his next book. Damon, who was working on the feature film “We Bought a Zoo” at the time, agreed to work with Krasinski, whose week was filled with work on “The Office.” The pair met at Damon's house on the weekends to write and then used free time during the week for revisions.

The work included researching fracking and the more they dug into the matter, the more it appeared to be the perfect backdrop.

“The more we looked at it, the more we realized it was perfect because people are so divided. The issues are so complex. It is a temporary lifeline to some people. But there are potential downstream horrific outcomes,” Damon says. “It's such a high-stakes game, it was a perfect place to kind of set a movie about decisions we make as communities.”

Once filming started, Damon heard from people on both sides of the issues. Some told him that without the millions of dollars paid by the gas companies, they would have lost their farms.

Damon originally planned to direct the movie, but he decided the shooting schedule would take him away from his wife, Luciana Barroso, and his four daughters for too long a period. He turned to Gus Van Sant, who directed Damon in “Good Will Hunting,” to take over the film.

Rick Bentley is a staff writer for The Fresno Bee.

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