Not so much a cinematic experience as it is a test of endurance, if you asked 2 of your dullest mates to take a camera out to the wilderness and film everything they did (and I do mean EVERYTHING), this is more or less what you'd get. Scenes that last forever without payoff or plot advancement, benign dialogue, endless walking scenes and a musical score that sounds just as disinterested as the audience, this is the celluloid equivalent of water torture, the pain slowly but surely increasing with each passing frame.
Reflecting on Gerry 10 years later, it reminded of a few films that came before and after its release. Part Blair Witch Project (1999) and part Open Water (2005), it's an exercise that effectively relies on minimal movie resources to create real tension and fear.
There are critics that have deemed it slow and polarizing. I found it effective because the stars are real life friends who's chemistry is evident throughout the film's entire length. As they try to find water and civilization, time is running out. You get so involved with their plight that you're right there with them every step of the way. The movie's only low point could possibly be the ending. It drags on and toys with the audience. It could have used a little editing. However, the ride to get there is worth it.
The film was directed by Gus Van Sant. With films like Good Will Hunting (1997) and Drugstore Cowboy (1989), in 2002 this was a complete different turn from what he had done before. I'd call him "Guts" Van Sant for making something this risky. He's pulls it off. With a hauntingly beautiful music score and breathtaking cinematography, Gerry is a small gem of a film. Oh and about the title, you'll just have to see the movie yourself to find out.
I talk up the usage of minimalist masterpieces by Arvo Pärt, but they're underused in this predominantly startlingly quiet film, some of whose highlights are, in fact, anchored by the tender and fittingly artistically sound pieces by Pärt, which are still not nearly as recurrently effective as cinematography by Harris Savides that, while never too playful with coloration and lighting, portray the film's lavish rocky desert trail environment with near-impeccable scope that is often truly immersive. There's more immersion value to style than substance, as irony would have it, and if substance is immersive, then credit is due to Gus Van Sant, who is generally misguided and, for that matter, under-assured in his experimental storytelling, yet has his share of moments in which thoughtfulness bonds with the style and even some writing highlights to create genuine heights in tension and drama. These highlights are very few and far between, but I suppose they're there, because no matter how sloppy Van Sant is as an artistic director, he has always been a fairly talented dramatic, and make no mistake, there is some dramatic potential to explore here. It's thin to begin with, considering the lack of dynamicity to the narrative, and what meat there is goes challenged by a questionable interpretation, and yet, on paper, this study on a friendship's collapse in the face of danger, inspired by the story of David Coughlin and Raffi Kodikian, has quite a bit of thematic intrigue and dramatic potential, occasionally done justice by storytelling, and frequently done justice by the performers. Minimalism holds back the talented lead duo of Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, and at the same time, it gives the performers an opportunity to showcase naturalist acting that is more immersive than the generally distancing naturalist storytelling, aided by a hint of chemistry, and broken up by some solid dramatic range that carries what highlights there are in this tedious drama. It's mostly blandness' being too great for the final product to descend from mediocrity that keeps contemptibility at bay, make no mistake, but strengths stand, carrying enough aesthetic and dramatic value to help save the final product the final product with glimpses into decency. Of course, while the film is saved from contemptibility, it cannot achieve the decency of the occasional highlights on the whole, ultimately falling flat as an overblown artistic endeavor and thoroughly underwhelming character drama that doesn't even flesh out its characters enough to draw all that much on the human drama.
I wouldn't so much say that the film is lacking in development as much as I would say that it is without development, going so far as to not even give you the courtesy of defining the title as a coincidental mutual name for Matt Damon's and Casey Affleck's character or a mere slang nickname, let alone putting all that much effort into immediate development or gradual expository depth. As hard as Damon and Affleck work to and are often successful as crafting reasonably interesting characters, it's just so hard to get invested in these leads through all the placements of overblown artistry over genuine substance, even though what characterization there is ought to be familiar enough for you to figure out who these characters are and what the story holds for them. The film tries to be unique, like so very many of its nature, yet, as irony would have it, that struggle to freshen things up gets to be formulaic, leaving you to pick up on tropes in the paper-thin narrative through the tropes in artistic experimentation that is aggravating enough when it's not too recognizable for the film's own good. Indeed, people, as I've lead you to believe, what really does a number on this film is simply questionable stylization that expends substance for style which isn't even as nifty as, say, abstract visuals or overtly high technical artistry, being comprised of challengingly overlong shots, naturalist visuals and long periods, not filler, but of nothing, whose joining an emptiness in expository depth results in an aimlessness that grows more and more biting until it the film can only be seen as plotless, plain and simple. Well, considering that there is something of a conflict, there are plot points, but they're just so sparse, and between them is simply nothing but dragging, and I would find that so much easier to get past if the film wasn't also quiet, featuring only a few overdrawn dialogue pieces amidst cold, silent dry spells that range from simply bland to punishingly tedious sooner than effectively immersive. While Gus Van Sant's talent as a traditional dramatic director does, in fact, lead the film to dramatic highlights, the final product is generally boring something just about awful, and some can take that better than I can, as surely as many can take that worse than I can, unable to be patient enough with the challengingly misguided art opus to find a certain charm to artistic ambition. Well, in all fairness, there are times in which the ambition descends either to pretense or a sense of unassurance, because, as I said, Van Sant is not used to projects of this nature, and when he's not getting carried away with his artistic license, he doesn't seem to know what to do, and while that makes for a film to bland to be bad, the final product falls flat as a borderline disaster, and ultimately as a mediocre misfire.
When the trail ends, the final product is pushed on by a haunting soundtrack and cinematography, some highlights in dramatic directorial storytelling, and an altogether interesting story concept, carried by Matt Damon's and Casey Affleck's effective naturalist performances, but ultimately overpowered by the lack of development and plotting and familiarity to already questionable storytelling stylization which goes backed by punishingly limp pacing and some sense of either pretense or unassurance that make Gus Van Sant's "Gerry", not contemptible, but tedious as a mediocrely misguided experimentation with a generally well-versed dramatic filmmaker's artistic license.
2/5 - Weak