I am the Messenger
Director Gus Van Sant reunites with actor Matt Damon once again after their award winning film Good Will Hunting, but this time with actor John Krasinski filling in for Ben Affleck as part of the writing-acting equation in a film that combines a big bad natural gas mining corporation, sales pitches by its sales people and elements of environmental protection all rolled into one. The result is an engaging and reflective look at people who have to lie outright in order to do their jobs, or to rely on half truths repeated enough times to be convincingly real, and that prick of conscience should that day arise.
Damon plays the lead role of Steve Butler, whose stellar track record of closing more land deals at rock bottom prices puts him in pole position for that cushy headquarters promotion, in a company that deals with natural gas mining, moving like a juggernaut and buying up plenty of agricultural farm land that are sitting on valuable shoal. And the game plan used by Steve is deceptively simple – to position himself as one of the town's own, having grown up on a farm, and transforming himself from corporate bigwig wannabe, to the trusted neighbour down the street. All he has to do is to close another deal to move into the corporate boardroom, which would be a piece of cake, except for a school science teacher to derail his seemingly smooth plan, and getting the townsfolk to decide based on a majority vote.
Written by Damon-Krasinski, the story is a fairly interesting one that takes on both a macro look at the problem at hand, where clean energy sources may not be as clean as it's made out to be, especially in the exploiting process, while on the micro level, has plenty of carefully crafted characters to carry the narrative through. For those of us who do not understand the environmental impact of wasteful clean energy production, this film has enough time dedicated so that you'll gather the gist of it, then use new information against what Steve has to present, in the name of very real corporate offers that's one time only, with pressure tactics employed once the feel good option of thinking about one's children and their education get exhausted.
On a micro level, we learn more about, and almost sympathize with Steve, who truly believes in the good that his company is doing in offering a bail out for farmers whose livelihood comes under threat of inevitable change brought about by big money, and genuine concern about those who rescind such offers only to be seen blown away by the winds of change when it comes. If one is skeptical about Damon's dramatic ability then this film may make you change your mind given his nuanced performance. Help of course comes in the form of veteran Frances McDormand, who plays his colleague and partner in crime to fast track their offer, and stands for that check in progress whenever Steve uncharacteristically falters in his usual smooth talking ways. Rounding up the main leads come writer Krasinski himself, as a small time environmentalist out to tell people about the truth to reject big money, because it is unsafe, using personal anecdotes to push his point through. It's small time activist versus big time corporation with legal and marketing teams, so it's anyone's guess how this would pan out.
And the outcome is nothing short of brilliance from the story, especially in its build up in presenting the case from both sides, with space for some romance thrown in for good measure as both camps slug it out for mind-share and heart-share using compelling arguments and guerrilla strategies, up until the final act where the true theme reveals itself – about lies and their impact. There are those in the world who can lie straight into your face without batting an eyelid, or write a report with malicious intent just because they can and are in a questionable state of mind thinking that their lies won't be seen through with a thorough enough research. It hits the mark squarely on the head as well on sales folks and their pitches, that once the deal is done you're never about to see them ever again, since they've already moved on, and the fine print in contracts would be what's governing your life henceforth.
There are those who base their arguments on compelling merits of their own, and there are those who base it on lies created to belittle others in an effort to paint a negative picture, hoping that the people you want to convince buys into your tirade against something. This film does all it can in having these points hammered by the narrative, until a scene that had struck me, involving the honesty of simple folk, who wants nothing but to carry on their simple, honest existence without the introduction of big money and its corrupting influence come put everything into a bind.
Gus Van Sant has made a film with Matt Damon, with Damon giving up what would be his directorial effort, that's a cold hard look at the power corporations wield over the little guy, about the truth in controlling stakes and outcomes, and sets you thinking about this gulf of equality that never was to begin with. A thought provoking, highly recommended film that deserves a repeat viewing!