GERRY - DVD review

Are these guys as smart as they sound or as dumb as they act?

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

Gus Van Sant is the director who gave us a shot-for-shot remake of "Psycho" in 1998 because, as I remember him explaining it, Who wants to watch an old black-and-white film? Then in 2002 he gave us "Gerry," his imitation of Nicolas Roeg's "Walkabout." Neither of the Van Sant films interested me much or, apparently, interested the rest of the world.

To be fair, Van Sant also gave us "Good Will Hunting," "Finding Forrester," and "My Own Private Idaho," so we know what he's capable of. "Gerry" just isn't it.

Casey Affleck and Matt Damon, who cowrote "Gerry" with Van Sant, star as a pair of buddies, both named Gerry, who stop their car one afternoon in the middle of the desert to take a walk. And that's all they do, for 103 minutes. They promptly get lost, talk amiably of trivial things, and joke while trying to reorient themselves, then begin to despair as they realize the seriousness of their situation. They could die out there. Unfortunately, so could we, watching this movie.

We know we're in for a long haul when the film opens without fanfare--no production credits or title--and we get about six straight minutes of the fellows' car silently moseying down a highway. Like most of the rest of the movie, it's graceful and lyrical, a kind of "2001" of the desert, but it's not very engaging, and one begins to lose interest and patience fast.

Van Sant and company were undoubtedly considering notions of existential landscapes here, but for what purpose? The problem with any tale with visions of grandeur and metaphorical insights is that a viewer can read practically anything into them he wishes and justify his interpretations on the flimsiest excuses. But a good symbolic story, be it an "Animal Farm," "Lord of the Flies," or "Walkabout," must have at its core a compelling premise or intriguing narrative in the first place, or there isn't any second place. "Gerry" simply has no plot to get engrossed in.

Yes, one could make a case for the film figuratively representing life as a maze, with its unknown goal. Or perhaps it's about Man's losing his way in the moral wilderness of existence; or it's a treatise on material vs. spiritual values or life as a dream quest or life as survival of the fittest. Maybe it represents the decline of Western civilization, I don't know. But any way you look at it, it's mostly boring.

However, the cinematography is stunning, at the very least, and the movie does present a beautiful series of desert vistas and panoramas. Combined with its long, lingering shots of Affleck and Damon trudging onward through the desert, the film can be quite calming in a mesmerizing sort of way, and one cannot deny the soothing benefits of tranquility. But if I had wanted a travelogue, several of the high-definition television channels I receive offer such entertainment at far less cost.

Affleck and Damon spend most of their screen time appearing to ad lib in an improvisational manner, which gets old fast. There is a cute bit where Affleck gets stuck up on a huge rock and can't get down, but it only serves to emphasize the ambiguity of the film. How'd he get up there? Are these guys as smart as they sound or as dumb as they act? Their behavior is like the film itself, leading the viewer to consider the movie either a brilliant allegory or a dumb waste of time. For the most part, I found "Gerry" an exercise in self indulgence.

Indeed, "Gerry" is probably the kind of film that annoys a lot of serious, talented, but less-privileged filmmakers. After all, there are undoubtedly hundreds, thousands, of actors, writers, and directors who don't have the money or the clout to film what may be great scripts, while Van Sant gets big-name stars and millions of studio dollars to make a movie that earns about as much profit as will pay for the production crew's catering service. Life isn't fair; live with it.

The picture is cleanly transferred to disc in an anamorphic widescreen ratio measuring approximately 2.13:1 across a normal television. Because the movie is beautifully photographed by cinematographer Harris Savides, the video quality had better be pretty good to do it justice, and it is. A fairly high bit rate ensures deep, rich colors that are vivid without being oversaturated or gaudy. Facial tones can appear a bit dark at times, and overall delineation is a touch soft, but the image looks good, nonetheless. There are a few parts of the film where the photography is intentionally grainy and blurry, but there are few or no signs of unintended grain. It's quite a lovely film simply to look at, which is, in fact, about all you can do.

There's not much for the audio reproduction to do, considering the nature of the film, and it's the silences between the sounds that are most telling. This is a very quiet film, almost a silent film, being in the middle of the desert and all, with the only noises the quietly ethereal music of Estonian minimalist composer Arvo Part, light wind and distant thunder, footsteps, the protagonists' huffing and puffing, and occasional dialogue. There is virtually no use of the surround speakers and little stereo spread, the modern Dolby Digital 5.1 audio coming off like very good, old-fashioned mono. Which is fine, since much of the film is meant to sound documentary in style, as though it were being recorded by a handheld microphone.

Given that the film already lost quite a few dollars for Miramax and Buena Vista, it's understandable the studio didn't want to spend any more money than they had to on DVD extras. The only real bonus item is a thirteen-minute featurette, "Salt Lake Van Sant," that takes us on location; it is at least as interesting as the film itself, and shorter. Then there are some Sneak Peeks at other BV titles and a scant fourteen scene selections. English is the only spoken language provided, and there are English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
Basically, "Gerry" looks like a short experimental film drawn out to 103 minutes. About a half an hour into it, I wanted to read a book. At forty-five minutes I was tempted to use the fast-forward button but resisted the urge; my dedication to DVD Town readers kept me focused. At a little over the hour mark I learned that "a gerry" was a wrong move, a wrong turn, or a screwup. It wasn't worth the wait.

The movie was filmed in Nevada, Salt Lake, Argentina, and Death Valley. At the end of its running time, I felt as though I had spent a month marooned in the desert without food or water myself and was parched for something better to watch


Film Value