Promised Land marks the third occasion where Gus Vant Sant directs Matt Damon in a film that's also co-scripted by the latter, after their Oscar-winning drama Good Will Hunting and foray into experimental storytelling with Gerry. The project was originally going to be Damon's feature-length directorial debut, but he pulled out at the eleventh hour; thereafter, Van Sant stepped in and picked up the reigns.
The project has an environmentally-conscious bend that's favorable for Awards season, in addition to the involvement of critically-acclaimed talent like Van Sant and Damon. Hence, it doesn't come as too much of a surprise to learn that Focus Features has elected to give Promised Land a (very) limited theatrical release in 2012, so that it may qualify for the 2013 Oscars ceremony.
Deadline is reporting that Promised Land will be granted an exclusive engagement in New York and Los Angeles on December 28th, before it begins an expanded theatrical run in January 2013. Studios have employed virtually identical release strategies many a time before, as a means to build positive buzz for prestigious films that aren't so commercially-viable (see: last year's The Iron Lady and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, for recent examples).
Damon and Van Sant's Promised Land meets those criteria. To be exact, it's a "reverse Capra-esque" tale, so to speak, where the protagonist (Damon) is a corporate salesman whose cynical worldview is forever altered by the residents of a rural town. By comparison, many of Frank Capra's films revolve around a "man of the people" (often, James Stewart), who stands up in the face of institutional corruption and greed - with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It's a Wonderful Life being well-known examples. Promised Land also recalls Bill Forsyth's Local Hero (cinephile cred check!), in that regard.
Moreover, Promised Land is said to have a pronounced anti-fracking message that seems destined to put off people who have little tolerance for environmental finger-wagging from Hollywood. Hence, the film could be passed over during the busy Winter Holiday season - but in January, Promised Land stands a better chance of thriving as an alternative to early year releases with... lower aspirations (see: Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters, The Last Stand, etc.).
John Krasinski (The Office) co-penned the Promised Land script with Damon - working from a screen story written by Dave Eggers (Where the Wild Things Are) - and appears in the film as a grassroots campaign head (and foil to Damon). The cast is rounded out by such acclaimed stars as Oscar-winner Frances McDormand (Moonrise Kingdom), Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married), Scoot McNairy (Monsters), and Hal Holbrook (Water for Elephants).
Damon's BFF Ben Affleck will also be competing in this year's Oscars run, with his historical drama-thriller Argo releasing in October (a film directed by and starring Affleck, among others). The two already have tentative plans to reunite at some point down the line on a biopic about the life of recently-captured criminal James Joseph "Whitey" Bulger Jr., the inspiration for Jack Nicholson's character in The Departed (read more about the project here).
We will let you know when a trailer for The Promised Land has been released.