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I love beautiful movies. A film that is shot well with wide open spaces and rolling hills will get me every time, especially if the pace is slow so I can soak in the images. So it's no wonder that I enjoyed the wonderfully shot and deliberately paced Gerry.
Gerry is an experimental film by director Gus Van Sant, and actors Casey Affleck and Matt Damon, all of Good Will Hunting fame. You can tell right away that this is going to be a different movie experience. The film opens with out any credits. No actors names, not the director, not even the title of the movie is shown. It starts with a car driving down a two lane highway. The camera follows the car for minutes.
The plot is very simple. Casey Affleck and Matt Damon are two friends, both named Gerry, who drive out into the desert to go to "the thing." They park their car and start out walking, and decide to take a less well traveled path. After a while of walking, they decide to turn back and soon realize that they are terribly lost.
This is a very minimalist film. There is no back story. You never find out why they are out in the desert, or what "the thing" that they are trying to reach is. It's not even clear if their names really are Gerry, or if that is a nickname. There is very little character development along the course of the film. The two lost people hardly talk throughout the movie, and background music is used very sparsely. It's about two guy lost in the desert. Wandering around, hour after hour, and day after day. Lost in the beautiful desert.
To capture the desperation and boredom of being lost, the film consists of very long shots, some lasting minutes, of the two Gerrys walking. You hear the crunch of their boots, and the blowing of the wind. And they walk and walk. The guys don't argue or bicker at all, they don't blame each other for their predicament. They just walk.
This may sound very dull to most people, and many (most?) who see this film will not like it. I didn't find it boring at all. I was drawn in, and found it fascinating. The long takes and minimal dialog allow the viewer to experience what the characters do. After a while you start wondering how you would react, what you would do in the same situation. Instead of reacting emotionally to what is happening, the movie gives you time to think. And that time is what makes the movie so effective.
The desert scenes are just stunning, and really make the movie. The rugged mountains, billowing clouds, salt flats and sand dunes are all amazing to look at. The scenery is almost another character in the movie. It's always there, accompanying Gerry and Gerry on their wanderings. The beautiful landscape also acts as a counterpoint to the dire situation that characters find themselves in.
That is not to say that the movie is perfect. While I did enjoy it, there were some aspects that I didn't think worked that well. While the camera work in this movie is very, very good, there were several shots that I was expecting to see, and didn't. At one point Gerry has climbed up on a large boulder, and can't get down. We never see how tall the rock is from the trapped person's perspective, which would have reinforced how dangerous the situation was. Likewise when one of the men climbs up a hill to try to spot a sign of civilization, they never show his point of view. It was rather aggravating.
Some scenes did drag on for too long. Every once in a while I found myself stepping out of the movie and wondering "How long are they going to hold this shot?" That's the last thing you want an audience to do when they're watching a movie. Had they tightened it up just a little bit, the movie would have worked a lot better.
The climax of the movie wasn't as effective as it could have been. The events didn't flow from what had come before. Again, a slight change, adding a line or two of dialog, would have helped things greatly.
At the end of the movie, I was glad I had seen it, flaws and all. While not a perfect film, it is a nice change of pace from the usual fare that Hollywood offers. If you are a fan of slower paced movies, like Tarkovsky's Stalker or Solaris, this movie would be worth tracking down.
Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, the audio for this film is excellent. The sounds in the movie are subtle, and the audio track accurately reproduces them. The crackling of a fire or the crunching of boots on hard dirt are very crisp and clear. It is easy to discern the soft sounds of a rock being kicked or a gentle sigh. The soundstage is used very effectively, the wind seems to blow across the screen while you are watching. Though it will not give your system a work out, it is a good sounding DVD. There are English subtitles.
The video quality of this movie is also very good. It is presented in anamorphic widescreen, in its original ratio of 2.35:1. The colors are just about all darker earth tones, but they are accurately reproduced and look fine. The blue sky is a bright and bold, and the blacks in the night scenes are pitch black. In the low light scenes everything is clear, you can see the fine details in the smoke rising off the fire.
Unfortunately, there is some edge enhancement, most notably in the long shots of the two characters. In most of the closer scenes it was much less noticeable. Surprisingly there were a couple of instances of print damage. Just an occasional spot of dirt or two, but these defects were very rare.
Even with the minor imperfections, a very good looking disc.
There is a 13 minute documentary on the making of the film, Salt Lake Van Sant. There is no narration, just a cameraman filming the crew getting ready to shoot a scene near the end of the movie. A couple of hands talk to the camera, and there is some discussion of where to place the camera, but most of it was watching people tighten down track or measure the distance to the actors. Not very exciting. I would have preferred to have an interview with the director, but there wasn't one.
There are also two trailers, a generic commercial for Miramax films, and a trailer for Blue Car.
This movie is not for everyone. If you are looking for plot and standard story telling devices, you should pass this one by. The movie wasn't perfect by any means, but it was a very good effort. The scenery was magnificent, and the pacing put you with the two lost men. The experiment worked to a very large degree. If you enjoy slow thoughtful movies, like the work of Andrei Tarkovsky or Michelangelo Antonioni, then this film is Highly Recommended.