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GERRY(director/writer: Gus Van Sant; screenwriters: Casey Affleck/Matt Damon; cinematographer: Harris Savides; editors: Paul Zucker/Lilah Bankier; music: Arvo Pärt; cast: Casey Affleck (Gerry), Matt Damon (Gerry); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Dany Wolf; ThinkFilm; 2002)
Nothing special to show at the end for this existential trip to nowhere.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A long and dull car ride into the desert with nothing special to show at the end for this existential trip to nowhere. Gus Van Sant (”Finding Forrester”/”Drugstore Cowboy”/”Good Will Hunting”) after a few critical bombs via the commercial route tries in this depressing minimalist work to reclaim his artistry established in his first few films. It’s filmed dirge-like as if the filmmaker was doing atonement for his prior sins of going the Hollywood route and cashing in big-time. Supposedly, according to the filmmaker, this work is meant as an homage to the Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr (noted for spare non-linear narratives and for his admiration of John Cassavettes and Andrei Tarkovsky). Van Sant also mentions as influences for this project Alexander Sokurov and Chantal Ackerman and Derek Jarman and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The problem is that this film is not that good and Van Sant has not shown so far that he can be as provocative as the masterful directors he wishes to style himself after. Van Sant co-wrote the script with Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, who happen to be the stars in this two-man production.

Two friends named Gerry (Casey Affleck & Matt Damon) ride into the desert and begin to hike on the “Wilderness Trail” without a compass, food or water. What they are doing here is never made clear (though one of them utters something about searching for “the thing,” which is never further dealt with). Their limited conversation is garbled and makes little sense–though it’s punctuated with profanity and idle chatter. It was about as interesting as overhearing most cellphone conversations in the street. What matters is the landscape. There’s a vast open western sky, a windswept landscape, mesas, cacti, not a soul in sight, as the two remain almost mute until Damon suggests they stay on the path after around 6 minutes of meaningless silence is endured.

The most exciting event takes place when they nearly do not reunite at their rendezvous point after going their separate ways to explore the desert. When they do meet, Affleck is stuck on a rock top (around 20 feet up) and can’t climb down the steep formation, as they plot for the next 15 minutes how he can jump down without breaking an ankle.

‘Gerry” was photographed by Harris Savides in Argentina and around Death Valley in California and the Great Salt Lake in Utah, as if it were a shoot for National Geographic. The stunning desert vistas with the sped-up camera movements playing tricks with the constantly changing white clouds and Arvo Pärt’s ”Spiegel im Spiegel,” a maudlin piece for piano and violin, establish a sobering meditative mood. I guess if you don’t like what’s on the screen, you can fade out and imagine your own film in your head.

Late in the film there’s a “mesmerizing” conversation between the two explorers. Affleck: “How’s the hike going so far?” Damon: “Pretty good.” The film’s most dramatic moment comes when the two hikers are too exhausted and dehydrated to move and Affleck looks as if he were dead as he suddenly reaches over to the more stoical Damon, who rolls on top of him in an encouraging embrace that had homo-erotic con-nations but like everything else in this vague and dreamy film–it is merely another allegorical ambiguity.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”