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Gerry
USA 2002
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Running time 103 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Two friends (Casey Affleck and Matt Damon) both named Gerry go for a walk on a wilderness trail in Death Valley and get lost.

Gerry is a testing movie, not that that is a bad thing. That art and suffering go hand in hand may be the case, however, when the suffering is in part that of the audience critical evaluation is made difficult. Although van Sant's film is about two guys lost in the desert, it is definitely not an adventure movie. None of the typically entertaining devices such as venomous snakes, treacherous ravines or itinerant hermits are thrown into the mix to keep the plot moving. As a survival movie it wants in verisimilitude. Our eponymous dudes seem to be remarkably lacking in any sense of direction yet have an amazing ability to cover masses of terrain over an ill-defined period of time without food or water with more equanimity than seems possible. If there is little in the way of dramatic action there not much more in terms of verbal reflection. The odd snippets of conversation are either of a banal or oddly artificial nature (like using the word "gerry" to mean "screwed up"), which, twinned the lack of events or the odd bizarre event (like Affleck's Gerry finding himself standing on top of a tall rock and not sure how he got there or how to get down), has been used as a licence to compare the film with Beckett's work. This should pretty much identify the intended demographic.

In the absence of any other idea one is drawn to the conclusion that Gerry is intended as an artistic experience, the essence of which is endurance. Van Sant, and fellow scriptwriters, Damon and Affleck, have memorably collaborated before, together with Ben Affleck, on the hugely successful Good Will Hunting. Van Sant is a director who established his indie credentials with My Own Private Idaho and Drugstore Cowboy but he is also a hard act to follow, his later works ranging from mainstream efforts such as Good Will Hunting to the perversely personal (a shot-by-shot colour remake of Psycho), a variability which presumably he has the money to indulge in.

Gerry, which was made in 2002, before the director's take on Columbine High, Elephant, belongs at the latter end of the spectrum. Those who are willing to recognize van Sant as an art director will no doubt accept this film as an existential essay with zen-like overtones. Stick with it to the end and there are good grounds for agreeing with this. The penultimate sequence, set on a perfectly flat salt basin, is visual minimalism at its most striking and, when combined with the final scene, hauntingly effective. Those who do not, or even worse, go to see this because they liked Damon in The Bourne Supremacy will be hard pressed not to cry out their own pain, the striking photography and Arvo Pärt's deftly sympathetic score notwithstanding.

 

 

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