(2013) Preceding his interview for promotion to VP of land management with Global Crosspower Solutions, Steve Butler (Matt Damon) - recalling his own experience growing up in Eldridge, Iowa - explains his strategy with company executive David Churchill: "I'm not selling them [rural farmers] natural gas. I'm selling them the only way they have to get back."
In McKinley, Pennsylvania - "the entry point of the whole state" - with his sales partner Sue Thomason (Frances McDermond), Steve reminds her that they can go as high as offering $5,000 per acre and 18% of the profits. Following his pitch, Steve answers a farmer's question of how much he can expect to earn on the contract: "Could be a millionaire." Sue, focusing on education and having the means for children going to college without loans, admits to Steve: "It's too easy."
Meeting with Gerry Richards (Ken Strunk), a senior member of the town's supervisors board - "How much money you think we got down there?" - Steve estimates $30 million along with a personal proffer of $30,000 when Richards brings up possible contamination of water resources. "I've been at this table before, and it does not end well," Butler replies to Richards's inclination of turning down the money: "Don't do this. Because we will walk away. We always do. And after every single town within three states has signed up for this, and the blows of this economy are almost unbearable, we're gonna come back. And we're gonna offer you nothing… And we buy this place for nothing. Now, please, let some other guy be last."
In a bar, Steve makes acquaintance with Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt), a teacher, celebrating her birthday and luring him into playing Absolut Madness. Inside the high school gymnasium, during Richards's presentation of Global's intentions to the audience in the bleachers, science teacher Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook) interrupts: "It's called fracking."
Before Butler can intervene, Yates continues about extracting natural gas from shale: "It's a clean and efficient resource. But the way we go about getting it is some dirty business." To win in this business, director Gus Van Sant dramatizes (without ever treating hydraulic fracturing accurately or honestly) from a script by Damon and John Krasinski with score by Danny Elfman, you play both sides.
"There's no such thing as a neutral position here," counters Butler: "If you're against this, you are for coal and oil. Period. I mean, unless we talk about cutting consumption. And so far, that's a conversation none of us wanna have."
Nevertheless, after getting Butler to admit that the drilling process isn't perfect and that the value of the deposit is five times what he'd told Richards, Frank (who has an MA in engineering from MIT and a PhD in physics from Cornell and still teaches for fun) calls for a period of reflection before a vote: "This is not in the best interests of this town."
Sue asserts her practical side, insisting to Steve (after his nearly getting pulled off the job during a teleconference) on an alternative of their going door to door until "we lease it all." Along with being a single mom dealing with her teenage son, who's staying with his divorced dad in Houston, via Skype, Alice also receives advice and sweet talk from Rob (Titus Welliver) at Guns, Groceries, Guitars and Gas.
Just as they've locked up about 60% of the land on leases, but still facing a referendum vote, Dustin Noble (John Kransinski), saying he's with Superior Athena, an environmental group, shows up in a truck running on bio-fuel to support the anti-fracking faction with pamphlets, flyers, "Global go home" yard signs, and evidence - a photo of dead cows on dead land of his own family's farm in Nebraska - for the cause shared with locals during open-mic night along with his singing Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark."
Sue confronts Dustin: "I know you think what you're doing is right, and I really admire that commitment. But your presence only confuses people…. We would like to make a donation to your organization. Your cooperation is valuable to us." In Alice's elementary-school classroom with her captive pupils, Dustin performs a spectacular demo of fracking with chemicals on a miniature farm model set aflame.
Almost singlehandedly setting up a fairground to entertain the townspeople, Butler fights back with a fistful of frack-you money, with which the folks of McKinley can say screw you to obtaining student loans, to having a mortgage, to all their financial woes.
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