Promised Land (1988)

“I thought you’d gone off to college to study football or something.” A bleak and uncompromising drama that features some solid performances, Promised Land explores life in a small Midwestern town (“Life on the edge of the American Dream,” according to the tagline) – focusing on the unfulfilled dreams of two former high school acquaintances and a tragic event that brings them together a couple of years later. Former high school basketball star “Davey” (Jason Gedrick) has dropped out of college and joined the town’s police force. Davey is desperate to rekindle his relationship with old flame “Mary” (Tracy Pollan), who is home for college on Christmas Break. Meanwhile, “Danny” (Kiefer Sutherland), a not-too-bright but good-natured drifter nicknamed “Senator,” has been wandering out West rather aimlessly for several years since he dropped out of high school. So he decides to head home to introduce his new wife “Bev” (Meg Ryan) to his family. It turns out that the dangerous, unpredictable Bev (she has a disturbing tendency to scream at people and wave guns around) is mentally ill (believe me, you’ve never seen Ryan in this type of role before!). Few scenes are more poignant than when Davey visits Danny’s sickly father (brilliantly underplayed by Oscar Rowland). In the background of most scenes you can view President Reagan gabbing on the TV relentlessly about “economic prosperity.” Love it or hate it, Promised Land will probably stick with you for a long time. Directed by Michael Hoffman and reportedly based on a true story, Promised Land was filmed in Utah and developed at the Sundance Institute.

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