LOS ANGELES - The hot-button topic of "fracking" has finally made its way to Hollywood in the new movie "Promised Land," out in U.S. theaters on Friday, with actors Matt Damon and John Krasinski teaming up to further the debate on the energy drilling technique.
The film explores the social impact of hydraulic fracturing drilling technique, or "fracking," which has sparked nation-wide environmental and political battles over its impact on drinking water, U.S. energy use, seismic activity and other areas.
"Promised Land" will see Damon, 42, reunite with director Gus Van Sant for the third time, following their success with 1997 film "Good Will Hunting and 2002's "Gerry."
In their latest film, Damon plays a corporate salesman who goes to a rural U.S. town to buy or lease land on behalf of a gas company looking to drill for oil. He soon faces opposition from a slick environmentalist, played by Krasinski.
In real life, Damon hasn't shied away from getting involved in political and social issues, working with charities and organizations to eradicate AIDS in developing countries, bringing attention to atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region, providing safe drinking water and stopping trees from being chopped and used for junk mail.
Yet "Promised Land," which Damon also co-wrote and produced, doesn't take a noticeable stance on "fracking." The actor would not publicly state his own views, telling Reuters that he didn't think his opinion had "any bearing" on the film.
"The point is that the movie should start a conversation. It's certainly not a pro-fracking movie, but we didn't want to tell people what to think," Damon said.
The actor said he and Krasinski never set out to make a socially conscious film, and "fracking" was added in later, as a backdrop to the story.
"It wasn't that we said we wanted to make a movie about 'fracking' as much as we wanted to make a movie about American identity, about real people. We wanted to make a movie about the country today, where we came from, where we are and where we are headed," Damon said.
"'Fracking' was perfect because the stakes are so incredibly high and people are so divided. It asks all the questions about short-term thinking versus long-term thinking."
Hydraulic fracturing entails pumping water laced with chemicals and sand at high pressure into shale rock formations to break them up and unleash hydrocarbons. Critics worry that "fracking" fluids or hydrocarbons can still leak into water tables from wells, or above ground.
FROM 'ADJUSTMENT BUREAU' TO 'PROMISED LAND'
At first glance, the pairing of Damon with Krasinski may not come across as the perfect fit, as Damon has primarily been associated with longtime friend and collaborator Ben Affleck, both of whom won Oscars for writing "Good Will Hunting."
Damon later become a colleague and friend to a number of key Hollywood players, including George Clooney and Brad Pitt, with whom he co-starred in the "Ocean's Eleven" franchise.
Krasinski, 33, is best known for playing sardonic Jim Halpert on NBC's long-running television series, "The Office," and has had occasional supporting roles in films such as 2008's "Leatherheads."
Damon and Krasinski came together after meeting through Krasinski's wife, Emily Blunt, who co-starred with Damon in the 2011 film "The Adjustment Bureau." Damon said he and his wife started double-dating with Krasinski and Blunt, through which their collaboration on "Promised Land" came about.
The duo's busy work schedules forced them to moonlight on weekends to make "Promised Land."
"John showed up at my house every Saturday at breakfast and we would write all day until dinner," Damon said. "Then we'd do it again on Sunday. I have four kids so he would come to me."
But Damon's determination to make the film his feature directorial debut fell through when his acting schedule changed, making it impossible to direct "Promised Land," so he turned to Van Sant.
"My first inclination was to send the script to somebody I'd worked with before," he said. "Gus seemed like the most obvious choice and I realized later that I'd never written anything that anyone else had directed, except Gus. I have a real comfort level with him."
Damon said he has not given up on his dream of directing movies and has his eye on a project at movie studio Warner Bros., which has a deal with Damon and Affleck's joint production company, Pearl Street Films.
With Affleck's third directorial effort "Argo" becoming an awards contender, Damon joked that the film's success can only be a good thing for his own budding directing career.
"I now happen to be partnered with the hottest director in Hollywood!" he said, laughing.