Posted: April 26, 2013 at 2:49 a.m.

Promised Land, directed by Gus Van Sant (R, 106 minutes)

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) hits the big screen in Promised Land, starring Matt Damon as superstar corporate salesman Steve Butler, who transforms into whatever type of local he needs to be in order to convince residents of rural towns to sell drilling rights to the natural gas that’s deep underground on their properties.

Working with his deadpan colleague Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand, done up to look painfully plain), Steve zooms around the countryside in a dusty years-old rental car (you can’t get those from Avis). After shopping for appropriately folksy attire at a neighborhood store, he starts knocking on screen doors, oozing with sincerity, as he explains how his company can bring relief to families stuck in the throes of economic decline if they’ll just sign the contract he’s got in his hand.

Steve’s high success rate slows suddenly when he encounters a knowledgeable townie (Hal Holbrook) and a clever grass-roots activist (John Krasinski) who take a stand against fracking at the same time Steve’s convictions and morals are challenged by an attractive and objective elementary school teacher (Rosemarie DeWitt).

The film moves along quietly, increasing in intensity and strength as Damon’s Steve is forced to get more and more creative in order to save his job from disintegrating at the hands of anti-frackers. Then, just when you think you’re watching a stunningly relevant and meaningful production, the conclusion veers off into Hollywoodland.

“Promised Land looks great - it’s a green humming thing, fairly throbbing with cinematographer Linus Sandgren’s palette of Andrew Wyeth earth tones, and populated by smart actors who make their characters feel like real people, even when the script makes them perform inanities,” says our critic Philip Martin. “With first-class production values and subtle performances, it’s the sort of movie that disguises its rickety and sometimes obvious script rather well.”

That script, Martin continues, “was written by Damon and co-star John Krasinski, and Damon originally planned to make the project his directorial debut. Damon called in [Gus] Van Sant to direct when he realized he wasn’t able to make the time commitment.

“And while Van Sant’s eye and sense of poetry no doubt elevate what’s essentially an updated Frank Capra story, Promised Land might have been a better film had Damon waited until he had time to direct it himself, for in the interval he and Krasinski might have taken a couple of more passes at the script, smoothing out some of the rough patches and deepening the roles of the female characters (Frances McDormand adds ballast just by being there, but her character should have taken over in the third act) and maybe rethinking the twist that nearly ruins the movie.”

Pierre Etaix Collection (unrated, five features and three shorts) It’s high time to rediscover French director-actor Pierre Etaix, whose classic physical comedies - reminiscent of the films of Jacques Tati and Jerry Lewis - went unseen for decades because of legal entanglements. These films, influenced by Etaix’s experiences as a circus acrobat and clown and by silent film comedies, are droll yet elegant. The collection includes The Suitor (84 minutes, 1962), Yoyo (98 minutes, 1965), As Long as You’ve Got Your Health (68 minutes, 1966), Le grand amour (87 minutes, 1969) and Land of Milk and Honey (76 minutes, 1971) - most of them collaborations with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) - and three witty shorts, Rupture (1961), Oscar-winning Happy Anniversary (1962) and Feeling Good (1966).

Blu-ray extras offer digital restorations, a new interview with the director, video introductions of seven films by the director, a portrait of the director by his wife, Odile Etaix, and a new English subtitle translation.

Richard III (unrated, 161 minutes) Laurence Olivier directs and stars in this 1955 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s muscular tale about a cruelly conniving hunchbacked king and his many victories on and off the battlefield. With Claire Bloom, John Gielgud. “Laurence Olivier’s classic rendition of Shakespeare’s total villain contains one of his most engaging performances and reveals some of his best spatial manipulation of action,” says critic Don Druker in Chicago Reader. “The film emphasizes betrayal - of innocent and guilty alike.”

The Impossible (PG-13, 107 minutes) Based on a true story, The Impossible is the sometimes-difficult-to-watch series of disasters that befall Maria (Naomi Watts), Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their three sons, who are blissfully vacationing in tropical Thailand when a catastrophic tsunami hits. “Director Juan Antonio Bayona spins the focus in on a single family caught up in the disaster, personalizing the horror and bringing it home in unashamedly melodramatic fashion on its very own tidal wave of emotion,” says critic Amber Wilkinson on the website Eye for Film. Don’t miss the scene where the water hits the land.

Write Home Movies columnist Karen Martin at kmartin@arkansasonline.com.

MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 04/26/2013