Artisan // 1987 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Erin Boland (Retired) // January 16th, 2004
"You know he used to say that America was the greatest country in the
world. 'Cause it didn't matter who you were, where you came from. Your son could
always be Senator."
-- Danny Rivers, AKA Senator (Kiefer Sutherland)
Promised Land is an independent film written and directed by Michael Hoffman, and supposedly based on a true story. This movie is extremely depressing. Its main thematic concern is the inability to realize the American Dream, or "make it" with the issuant downfall of man. There have been much better movies and novels written on the topic. If this is a subject that really interests you, I would suggest watching The Great Gatsby instead; it might be a bit less depressing.
Promised Land explores what happens to young adults in America who have no possibility of realizing the "American Dream." The film features four central characters, three of whom went to high school together. Davey Hancock (Jason Gedrick, Backdraft) was the high school basketball star. He had a beautiful girlfriend, Mary (Tracy Pollan, A Stranger Among Us), and plans to play college basketball. Two years later, he is back at home in small town America working as a policeman, having lost his basketball scholarship and unable to stay in school any other way. Mary has left town also for a different college where she studies art and is seeing someone named Ray. At home over the Christmas holiday, Davey tries to ignite their feelings for each other again and proposes that she move back home also.
And on the other hand, there is Danny Rivers (Kiefer Sutherland, Young Guns), AKA Senator, the high school geek/weirdo, who drops out and heads out west to find a job. Two years later, having spent time in jail and unable to hold a steady job, he comes back married to Bev (Meg Ryan, When Harry Met Sally) a crazy ne'er do well who's past is probably just as shady as her husband's.
Promised Land is a far cry from most modern teenage/young adult Hollywood films. While the actors were young (and considered attractive when the film was released), the film's darkly comic and depressing central theme does little to see the potentially dynamite cast they have put together. Thematically, the movie looks at American life when the American dream has failed. The people living their lives are not going to be the successes they had once dreamed of, their young hopes for a better and brighter future then their parents had are gone and all that remains on the distant horizon is a future that, in the best possible light will be so-so, the same life that their parents had led or worse. For Davey this is not necessarily a bad life, though he does try to cling to the past (the high school basketball glory years) and the hopes he had for bigger and better things through his relationship with Mary. Unlike Davey, Mary still clings to some shred of hope that she had in high school and she faces the decision of staying with Davey, meeting a so-so future with him in their small-town hometown, or following her own dreams into a more uncertain and possibly better future. Danny seems to be searching for the future that awaits Davey in some respects, and in others, completely resigned to his knowledge that he has failed at life. He seems to want the American life of a house in his small town with 2.5 kids and a dog with Bev alongside him. Bev, however, in all her craziness could not be confined to a bland future. She would rather die young and die quickly then face a life of insipid ordinariness with no future in sight.
Meg Ryan and Kiefer Sutherland gave excellent performances, with Meg Ryan portraying a very realistic drunken sociopath. Kiefer Sutherland gave Danny a "lost little boy feel." He was looking for something he didn't have at home, most likely the love of a beautiful girl (since there was an allusion to a crush on Mary), and when he found it, his life was complete. His journey west had filled the void in himself that he sought to complete and returned home to find another piece of himself was missing. Jason Gedrick and Tracy Pollan did not give quite as stellar performances in their respective roles as Sutherland and Ryan; in fact, some of their acting was a little on the unrealistic side. In the beginning of the movie, when Danny attends the party at Mary's house and she finds him in her bedroom, most teenage girls would have become extremely angry and, well, bitchy. Mary and even Davey are surprisingly amiable to the high school dropout, something that wouldn't be realistic in most modern high schools. (At least not the one I went to.) Mary's character seemed rather insipid herself, incapable of the range of emotion that was present in some of the other characters of the film. The film's supporting actors were decent. Several scenes could have been much better with a better supporting cast.
The picture quality on the DVD is not the best that I have ever seen. In some scenes, there were slight orange undertones to the flesh tones; this may have been the result of a low budget production and the lighting used during the filming, but it was not attractive. In some scenes the contrasts were a little on the soft side, distinct outlines (of people and items on the set) appeared to be a bit fuzzy. Overall, throughout the film, some of the darker colors appeared a bit grainy. The sound on the disc wasn't much better. The dialogue was extremely soft in many scenes, forcing me to raise the volume so I could understand what was being said. In other scenes, the background music was much louder, which forced me to again adjust the volume until the music was over. (Again, this may have been the result of a low budget independent film). The film also did not have an extremely memorable soundtrack, and the DVD contained absolutely no extras.
Promised Land won't appeal to everyone; in fact, it won't appeal to most people. Do yourself a favor -- if you have any doubts, pass this one up.
Promised Land and all those involved are declared not guilty by reason of pure insanity.
Review content copyright © 2004 Erin Boland; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated R