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movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Gerry

Starring: Casey Affleck, Matt Damon
Director: Gus Van Sant
Rated: R
RunTime: 103 Minutes
Release Date: February 2003
Genre: Drama

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewvideo review
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewvideo review

Review by Harvey Karten
1½ stars out of 4

If you're a guy, have you ever been so desperately lost that you broke down and in an unmanly show of cowardice asked a woman for directions? If so, you'll understand how Gerry felt when leaving the car, taking a hike on a wilderness trail that led to a desert with sands as far as the eye can see, and thought they were going to die. The "they" is not a typo. The two people are unnamed in what is essentially a two-character experimental piece by Gus Van Sant: hardly a picture to die for. They call each other Gerry because they're good friends and "Gerry" is a code word meaning something else, something related to the idea of "screw-up." So if one dude calls the other Gerry and is called Gerry in return, what they both mean is "Hey, screw-up..." In fact what Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, friends in real life as well as in this picture, are bringing out is that people who know each other for a long time, who hang out regularly with one another, may talk in such a code that outsiders would have to hire the folks who broke the Enigma to understand what they are saying.

Not that they have anything of importance to say in this film. The dialogue is spare and shorn of wit (written by the two actors as though a vanity piece, and it shows), the landscape is flat for the most part, the piano keys of composer Arvo Part no competition for those of Chopin of Mozart. Even Thoreau had grass around his Walden cabin and a nice pond to wade into and even use for drinking. These two are stripped. They take a walk without a compass, without a cell phone, without water, and Van Sant wants to show us not only what life could be like without the material goodies that we Americans are addicted to but more important, what a film is like when it's stripped to the bone. This "Gerry" is as anti-Hollywood as a movie can get: no car chases, no wiseass dialogue, no explosions, little exposition, unmotivated action, little editing. This is Gus Van Sant's rebellion against MTV that recalls Andy Warhol's "Sleep" and "Empire" (a camera focusing on a man sleeping and on New York's tallest building respectively). There's a touch of "The Blair Witch Project" as well, except that what awaits the two is not some Golem or Gollum that appears suddenly in a cave but the horror of sheer nothingness.

What's the story? Two friends who call each other Gerry (Matt Damon and Casey Affleck) leave their cars somewhere in Utah or New Mexico or California's Death Valleywho knows? the production notes do not reveal this informationand start walking in the woods. When Damon, the alpha male, suggests that they avoid "tourists" (two other people who are walking in the same direction) by taking an undiscovered path, they lose their bearings, and as the hours and days roll on they speak to each other even less than they did in the opening scene featuring the friends in a car driving and driving, and driving and driving within speed limits though there's nothing around them for 50 miles. As they get hungry and thirsty and, at night, cold, they begin to see mirages. In the one comic scene, Affleck finds himself on top of a rock some forty feet from the ground (how he got there nobody knows) while Damon paces around like a dog looking for a good spot to dig a crevice in the sand with his shoes so that his friend can jump. There are some images that could be used by the tourist board of Utah or New Mexico or California or wherever this mysterious place is, but aside from that, the film's interest is strictly in the concept that this sort of thing hasn't been done for ages.

So we get a rebellion against the current slam-bang Hollywood style of filmmaking. Is that a good thing? Sure, it's a big plus when a filmmaker eschews Vin-Diesel-like formulaic action, but going to the other extreme is not the answer. What "Gerry" does for us in the audience as we watch these two fellas trudge for days without even the material comforts that the Taliban would allow is give us the impression we are sprouting calluses on our feet. Oh, ditto on our behindsfrom shifting about in our seats.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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