It's a no-brainer to hire Portland, Oregon, resident Gus Van Sant as your director, especially if you're a Hollywood hyphenate named Matt Damon. After all, when Van Sant directed "Good Will Hunting" in 1997, it forged a relationship between Damon and Van Sant that would extend through the disastrous "Gerry" and on into other prospective and more promising movie projects for the 21st century. Upcoming Damon-produced "Promised Land" may be a film that's equal with "Good Will Hunting", even if it's also a second chance for Van Sant to redeem his recently shaky directing career.
Yes, Van Sant has finally felt the curse of so many other indie directors who suddenly became Oscar-winning and box office successes. Any follow-up project after creating something akin to "Milk" is almost always certain to be compared to a previous Oscar success. In Van Sant's case, it seemed to be a more deliberate attempt to remove any sense of Oscar ostentation.
His "Restless" in 2011 might have been highly misunderstood in its intention and plot structure. But there isn't a doubt that making "Restless" after a three-year break put Van Sant's directing career on the precipice. For some people, "Restless" also wouldn't have even been given a serious look had it not been for the insightful and luminous lead performance by Mia Wasikowska.
No matter what you might have thought of Van Sant's career move, he sent a refreshing message that he wasn't about to give up making small films. You can't always say that about other directors who once thought small and then went permanently big after winning a barrel of Oscars. This doesn't mean Van Sant didn't learn some lessons with "Restless", particularly in his through-line of examining themes of death.
Death (or impending death) has been such a constant in Van Sant's movies that perhaps he considered "Restless" to be a bookend. Based on the synopsis of his upcoming "Promised Land", we see no references to death, and instead a curious obsession with the politics of drilling in America. It looks to be as sharply and topically political as it was taking on the life, actions, and assassination of Harvey Milk.
Going that route must be a new calling for Van Sant, particularly when it seems to garner more awards for him than when he explores deeper themes. Plus, you can only do so many movies about themes of death until it starts to become a weight that can pin a director as excessively morose. We can keep this in mind, even if Van Sant was initially attracted to death as a trilogy ("Gerry", "Elephant", and "Last Days"), despite it seemingly going on before and after.
If we have any death in "Promised Land", it's going to be over the volatile politics of a corporation offering oil drilling in a small town that needs economic help. Should Van Sant explore any death here, he perhaps has an interesting cinematic road ahead in exploring America's fate if the political chasm widens on such issues. Even if you can't call this a true Van Sant movie because he's not producing it, he's proven he perpetually gravitates to the same themes.
Once his mainstream foothold is back in place, Van Sant will have to decide whether he'll take those themes to mainstream places or back to the small film. Making the small film appears to take him back to his roots where a rare failure doesn't ever knock him completely out of contention in furthering his career.
- Arts & Entertainment
- Gus Van Sant
- Matt Damon