Okay, so this isn’t a great moment but it’s a pretty good one. In the movie Promised Land, Matt Damon plays a natural gas representative who goes up against an anti-fracking environmentalist played by John Krasinski. The movie came and went with very little fanfare at the end of 2012 but it’s worth a viewing for its engaging performances and unexpected subject matter that doesn’t become as politically didactic as you might think – even if the plotting is a bit formulaic.
But we’re really here to talk about the Springsteen moment of course. Now, despite the film’s title, the song featured is not “The Promised Land.” Nor does the film feature Springsteen’s original music. Instead, it features Krasinski singing an (intentionally) off-key rendition of “Dancing in the Dark” at an open mic. The scene is classic Springsteen in nature. It begins with Krasinski alienating the crowd with his firm anti-natural gas beliefs before winning them over by singing Springsteen. His fellow bar patrons quickly join in and start singing with him on stage – the unifying nature of Springsteen incarnate.
In an interview with The Guardian, Damon expressed his appreciation for Springsteen and even said he feels that Promised Land is (coincidentally) a film version of Wrecking Ball. And he’s not off-base, there are strong thematic similarities to several of the songs on the album, particularly “Easy Money,” “Jack of all Trades,” and “Wrecking Ball.”
Is Damon, I ask him in Berlin, a fan of Springsteen? It turns out to be a lucky guess, made only because his new film is called Promised Land – the name of a track from the 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town – and by the fact there is a memorable scene in the movie where Damon's co-star John Krasinski sings a karaoke version of the song "Dancing in the Dark".
"Uh-huh, huge," says Damon. "Springsteen's a god in my eyes." There then follows a few minutes where Damon picks his way excitedly through Springsteen's recent oeuvre: The Rising ("a masterpiece"), Magic ("such an intelligent takedown of the Bush administration"), and culminating with last year's Wrecking Ball, which reached number one in both the UK and the US. It is an intensely political record that shines a harsh light on the American dream, with music inspired by the Civil War and the Dust Bowl. "It doesn't feel like an act," Damon muses. "It doesn't feel like he's trying to pretend that he still has the common touch. I think he believes what he believes, and that's very real."
He continues: "I do view this movie, Promised Land, as the visual expression of his last album. It's actually eerily similar. I hadn't heard the album before we wrote the script, but John Krasinski and I went to hear him in Madison Square Garden at the first show that he did of Wrecking Ball and he played the album and I went: 'Fuck! That's the movie!' I went back to see him afterwards and he asked: 'What are you working on?' And I said: 'It's like the movie version of your new album.' And he goes: 'What the fuck does that mean?' And I said: 'I don't know, man! But you've got to see this thing when it comes out. I'm telling you, it's the movie version of your album.'"
Sadly, I couldn't find a clip of the open mic scene from Promised Land online so instead I'll include this video of John Krasinski and Jason Segal singing "I Get by with a Little Help from My Friends" at a karaoke bar in Michigan.