Writer-director Michael Hoffman wants to encourage us in this film to reflect upon the lack of resilience in today's youth as they approach adulthood and find their dreams of happiness unattainable. The film, which was developed at Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, introduces us to three Ashville, Utah, teenagers Davey (Jason Gedrick), a high school basketball hero; Mary (Tracy Pollan), his cheerleader girlfriend; and Danny (Kiefer Sutherland), an awkward outsider.
Two years later, Davey has dropped out of college and become a policeman. On a school break, Mary, now an art student, realizes that she and Davey live in two very different worlds. Sensing her confusion, he tells her, "If you come back, you'll never have to grow up." Meanwhile Danny, who has served time for drug dealing, returns to town with his wife Bev (Meg Ryan), a wild troublemaker. These four come together in a violent encounter outside a convenience store.
Hoffman has drawn out finely tuned performances from the attractive cast. The crisp cinematography by Ueli Steiger and Alexander Gruszynski makes the most of the Western setting. Promised Land works as a minor slice-of-life look at the dashed hopes of privileged youth, but it misses the mark as a heavy-duty meditation on the American Dream.