`Gerry' wanders aimlessly

Movie Reviews

March 28, 2003|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

When the American journalist asks T.E. Lawrence why he loves the desert in Lawrence of Arabia, the hero famously replies, "It's clean." That must be what made director Gus Van Sant traverse the anonymous sandscapes of his new film Gerry.

After crafting off-Hollywood milestones like Drugstore Cowboy, Van Sant entered safe middlebrow respectability with Good Will Hunting, then wandered into bungled commercial inanities like a shot-for-shot color remake of Hitchcock's black-and-white classic Psycho (an art-school experiment at best) and Finding Forrester, which played in part like a Good Will Hunting remake. For Van Sant, shooting Matt Damon and Casey Affleck (Ben's brother) roaming across the badlands of Gerry probably seemed like an act of purification. For viewers it's more like an act of torture.

Damon and Affleck both play characters named Gerry, who, when they talk at all, share a sometimes stark, sometimes whimsical private language that includes the word "gerry" as a synonym for screw-up. They get lost on a hiking trip, and the camera follows them as they try to find the nearest road.

This means to be the sort of stripped-down moviemaking that makes us study the performers closely for clues to their characters. At first, they commit so many random acts of stupidity they appear simply to be mentally challenged. Then, working from their own script, the stars try to differentiate between their personalities: Affleck is more articulate and emotionally transparent, Damon more the All-American boy - all fit and rough-and-ready but also all opaque and in denial. Still, the situation is so extreme from the outset that to look on it as a test of a particular set of traits is ludicrous.

Of course, the spare absurdity of Samuel Beckett is where Van Sant is headed; he achieves it rarely, as when Affleck makes it to the top of a big rock but somehow finds himself unable to get down. Most of the time, the movie luxuriates in long takes of two guys trudging as the sun sets and rises and the landscape shifts from sparse to barren. The desert is clean in Gerry, but it's also empty.

Gerry

Starring Matt Damon and Casey Affleck

Directed by Gus Van Sant

Released by ThinkFilm

Rated R

Time 103 minutes

Sun Score *

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