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Alright, make some room. Another potential Oscar play has joined the party.
We've been speculating for some time that either Sacha Gervasi's "Hitchcock" (Fox Searchlight), Scott Cooper's "Out of the Furnace" (Relativity) or Gus Van Sant's "Promised Land" (Focus) could be last-minute additions to the season. Gervasi's film, it appears, is sticking with a 2013 launch, while Cooper's -- which came *this* close to peeking out this year -- will hold off as well.
But Focus has just announced that Van Sant's film, from a screenplay by Matt Damon and John Krasinski (based on a story by author Dave Eggers), will indeed hit the ground running in 2012. The film, starring Damon and Krasinski, along with Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt and Hal Holbrook, will miss the festival circuit but it's set for release New York and Los Angeles on December 28.
The film's star writers play rivals in the film. According to a synopsis, Damon's character is "Steve Butler, a corporate salesman who arrives in a rural town with his sales partner, (McDormand). With the town having been hit hard by the economic decline of recent years, the two outsiders see the local citizens as likely to accept their company’s offer, for drilling rights to their properties, as much-needed relief. What seems like an easy job for the duo becomes complicated by the objection of a respected schoolteacher (Holbrook) with support from a grassroots campaign led by another man (Krasinski) who counters Steve both personally and professionally."
Though there is some debate over how "issue-driven" the film may be, some of this could be a bit of a personal thing for Damon, on some level. The actor co-founded water.org, a clean water initiative driving new solutions and financing models to create lasting change for the global water and sanitation problem. The BFCA awarded him the Joel Siegel Award in 2011 for his humanitarian work in that field.
While water.org's efforts have mostly been focused on areas like Africa, South Asia and Central America, there is nevertheless concern over reported contamination in drinking water here in the United States as a result of "fracking," the process illuminated by Josh Fox's Oscar-nominated 2010 documentary "GasLand." And it's that very issue that looks to be front and center in "Promised Land." (A sequel to "GasLand" is due out this fall.)
The entire fracking debate really took off two years ago, and Hollywood seemed to be ground zero for much of the rhetoric. Movie stars like Mark Ruffalo joined the cause, and if Van Sant's film hits the right note, it could be the kind of thing that makes Academy members feel like they're actually doing something with their vote.
Focus already has Wes Anderon's "Moonrise Kingdom," Joe Wright's "Anna Karenina" and Roger Michell's "Hyde Park on Hudson" to play with this year, but this move seems to indicate that they have something even stronger on their hands. We shall see.
Van Sant, meanwhile, has experienced a roller-coaster relationship with awards season. His last film, "Restless," was largely dismissed, but just three years prior his Harvey Milk biopic "Milk" was lighting up the circuit. Of course, the first time he teamed with Damon was 1997's "Good Will Hunting," which scooped up nine Oscar nominations and two wins. But then there was 2000's "Finding Forrester," widely considered cloying and formulaic (yet, somehow, not an Oscar player), and 2002's "Gerry," which most would agree was too esoteric to have ever appealed to the Academy demographic.
Personally, I think he has one of the most interesting portfolios in the business. And he's at the top of his game when he finds a sweet spot between accessibility and artful bravery. You can't pigeonhole him, and he never fails to find a new direction.
What will that direction be for "Promised Land?" We'll find out sooner than we originally expected.
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