There’s more than a hint of David-and-Goliath tales like Local Hero in PROMISED LAND (15: Universal).
And this gently-paced fictional story about an energy corporation buying up farmland also has echoes of true-life legal dramas such as Erin Brockovich.
Matt Damon and Frances McDormand star as slick company reps who arrive in a rural Pennsylvania community to harvest signatures allowing deep drilling for natural gas using the controversial fracking process.
A retired engineer (Hal Holbrook) asks difficult questions about its ecological impact and a charismatic eco-warrior (John Krasinski) whips up the locals into a threatened revolt.But the real focus of the story hinges on Damon’s crisis of corporate confidence, which is subtly played.
Director Gus Van Sant makes the most of the rolling American landscape, although we could have done with the film having a few more surprises up its sleeve.
> An Alaskan state trooper (Nicolas Cage) is on the trail of a serial killer in moody, fact-based thriller THE FROZEN GROUND (15: Koch Media).
The Anchorage area has been terrorised for 13 years and when a young prostitute escapes the maniac’s clutches, the lawman seeks her help in identifying him. But he has a hard time earning her trust and her reluctanc e to give evidence means Cage has to convince his bosses he’s after the right man, while protecting the girl from a murderer intent on finishing the job.
Writer/director Scott Walker stays relatively faithful to the details of the 1983 case and provides an atmosphere that evokes the Nordic noir genre. Cage’s performance is solid, although he occasionally threatens to spill over into manic overacting, and John Cusack is perfect as the ‘Is he or isn’t he’ thrust of the investigation.
> Muddled crime drama HARRIGAN (15: High Fliers) is set on a troubled estate in north-east England in 1974, a time of social unrest, high inflation, power cuts and the three-day week.
Stephen Tompkinson stars as police detective Barry Harrigan, who returns to his home town after an assignment in Hong Kong. As the economic crisis bites, Harrigan struggles to bring a gang leader to justice and is hampered by tight budgets and superior officers all too ready to turn a blind eye to the crime spree.
The case becomes personal when his friend is beaten to death by his enemy’s thugs.
A grim portrait of an industrial city in decline is painted, but the script, by former policeman and TV writer Arthur McKenzie (The Bill, Wycliffe), is too scattergun to hang together as a cohesive story.
Although Tompkinson does well as the honourable man fighting against a failing system, most characters are too close to lazy stereotypes to impress.
>Alan Cumming is a tremendous actor and his exuberance perfectly suits the drag act he performs in a seedy 1970s LA bar in ANY DAY NOW (15: Peccadillo).
He remains larger than life as he falls in love with the Assistant DA during his bid to secure custody of the teenage Down’s syndrome son of a drug-addled neighbour, who has been jailed for a variety of offences.
The period is perfectly captured and the gay rights issues under discussion are given a sharp, contemporary edge.