Friday, August 26, 2011


Originally Written and Posted at on 8/3/04 w/ Additional Edits & New Content.

One of the finest independent filmmakers from the 1980s, Gus Van Sant has always challenged the world with his view on drugs, sexuality, angst, and intelligence. From his 1985 debut film Mala Noche, he would embark into a widely-acclaimed career with two landmark films for 1989's Drugstore Cowboy and 1991's My Own Private Idaho. After a misstep with 1993's Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Van Sant returned in 1995 with the media satire To Die For that made Australian actress Nicole Kidman a superstar. In 1997, Van Sant reached a peak with Good Will Hunting that featured comedian Robin Williams in an Oscar-winning performance as psychiatrist to troubled student Matt Damon who also won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay which he co-wrote with fellow co-star Ben Affleck. In 1998, Van Sant decided to cash in on his success with a frame-by-frame remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho which proved to be a disappointment. After 2000's Finding Forrester, some felt Van Sant had lost his way and the director decided to return to his indie film roots. In 2002, Van Sant released a film that was way beyond any of his mainstream work in the film entitled Gerry.

Gerry is a movie about two men named Gerry who both take a hike in the desert and then, get lost. That's pretty much it. Rather than taking on a story with so many layers and contexts, Van Sant returns to simplicity in a European film style that he loved as a young filmmaker. Directed by Van Sant with a largely improvised script he co-wrote with his stars Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, both Van Sant regulars, the film is really an exercise on survival, morals, and human mentality. In Gerry, Van Sant strips away everything he's done before for a simplistic, minimalist film style with just a few extras, two main actors, and a small film crew filming in several locations like California, Utah, and Argentina. After years of so-so mainstream efforts, Gerry marks an artistic return to form for the noted indie film icon.

Two guys named Gerry are driving through the desert where they decided to stop to take a hike. During their hike, they follow a trail and then stopped following it where the two discussed the TV show Wheel of Fortune. Suddenly, they find themselves lost and have trouble making their way back until night appears as they set a campfire where they have a conversation about various things. The next day, the two men climb hills where they split to find familiar ground until one of them is on top of a rock and unable to get down. After that moment, they continue to try and find something only to be lost in the desert. With no food, water, or rest for three days, the two fight while seeing mirages and other things as they're both dying unsure if they'll ever get help.

The film's minimalist, simplistic plot timed at nearly an hour and forty-five minutes seems like a stretch for a feature-length film. While the film does have its flaws in its lack of actual dialogue and long sceneries where the pacing is slow. Gus Van Sant isn't trying to make a perfect film but rather an experimental film where the audience act as a third party lost in the desert. Van Sant's direction really shines as he just lets the camera flows with some detached two-person shots and close-ups of the actors himself. Van Sant also brings in moments where Matt Damon and Casey Affleck are improvising where the two seemed very relaxed in their performances. Van Sant's approach to just making a film that is simple proves he still has an independent spirit in him and the fact that you can make a movie with just two guys getting lost in a desert. Especially since the film has no opening credits at all proving that it's a hard-nosed indie film.

If Van Sant's direction is as potent in comparison with his more famous films, the film's script is very stripped-down in its presentation, leaving Damon and Affleck to improvise a lot in their dialogue. The conversations about Wheel of Fortune, sanctuaries, nature, and morality are often very sparse. Damon and Affleck pretty much just use their body language and emotions to bring their performances. The two men don't talk very much as they endure several challenges, physically, emotionally, and mentally. While it's not their best performances, in comparison to their previous work with Van Sant, Damon and Affleck bring in performances without any kind of theatrics or traditional dramatic scales but rather something simple and realistic. Particularly Matt Damon, who is more well known as a Hollywood superstar of sorts but he proves himself to have some loyalty in his work with Van Sant and indie films.

In Gerry, Matt Damon strays away from his A-list status to just act and be himself for a bit in his role as one of the Gerry brothers. What this proves for Damon is that he's an actor who is willing to do a big budget film like The Bourne Identity and Ocean's 11 to strange, lowbrow comedies like Stuck on You and a hilarious cameo on Eurotrip to something artsy as Gerry. While his buddy and Casey's brother Ben may have a more A-list status than Matt Damon, Damon is proving himself to be one of the more underrated actors of his generation. Casey Affleck meanwhile, proves he's a more capable, disciplined actor than his own brother as he just brings a smart but flawed approach to his performance as one of the Gerry brothers. Casey, who's appeared in To Die For and Good Will Hunting, has proven himself as a writer himself since he and Matt bring a more minimalist approach to their characters while not leaning to any kind of stereotypes. Overall, the two men bring out fine performances.

Complementing Van Sant's vision is cinematographer Harris Savides whose vast, wondrous cinematography is spellbinding in capturing the look of the deserts and mountains. Even when the day shifts into night, Savides' look is amazing to watch as he just gives a wonderful, grand look into nature where the cinematography is overall exquisite. The film even captures the look of the film with its windy sounds, birdcalls, and speech from sound designer Leslie Shatz and sound editor Felix Andrew with Van Sant, Damon, and Affleck doing the overall editing of the film. Bringing a melancholic tone to the film is composer Arvo Patt who brings an atmospheric, piano score to the film along with earthy, ominous textures to the film itself where it plays well to the film's minimalist style.

***Additional DVD Contents Written on 8/25/11***

The Region1 DVD from Miramax and ThinkFilm presents the film for its 2:35:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio that is enhanced for 16x9 televisions along with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. The only major special feature in the DVD is a thirteen-minute behind the scenes featurette entitled Salt Lake Van Sant. It’s essentially the making of a tracking-crane shot where the two Gerrys are walking on a desert through harrowing winds as it’s shot on location in the Utah Salt Flats as it has a few humorous moments and great tidbits on how to do a shot like that. Other minor special features include a trailer for the film Blue Car and a celebration piece for Miramax as it’s an overall decent DVD.

***End of DVD Tidbits***

While it may not live up to more conventional films Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting or To Die For, Gerry is still a haunting yet engaging film from director Gus Van Sant with help from Casey Affleck and Matt Damon. While the film isn't clearly for everyone because of its simple nature and walk-like pacing, it's still a remarkable film for just being to the point and not has any weird effects or over-the-top theatrics. This film would mark a return-to-form for Van Sant following a period of big-budget Hollywood films. In the end, Gerry is an unconventional yet provocative film from Gus Van Sant and company.

(C) thevoid99 2011

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