February 14, 2003
Gus Van Sant had a great deal of success teaming the unknown writing team of Affleck and Damon together in Good Will Hunting. He now returns to familiar ground in Gerry, with the sole difference being that the Affleck in question is younger brother Casey rather than Ben, whose plate was already quite full with Changing Lanes, The Sum of All Fears and Daredevil. Casey is little known outside of his smallish role as Ben's young brother in Good Will Hunting, but you might remember him as the older brother/sage mentor in the two American Pie films. He was also one of the leads in the underachieving Soul Survivors, a moody horror film that garnered little studio support for its theatrical release. Since Casey has a tendency to work a lot in his older brother's films and Ben often works with his buddy Matt, this will already mark their fourth onscreen performance together, though Ocean's 11 would be the only film where they both have significant roles.
Affleck and Damon have received writing credits for their work in Gerry, but it's important to note that this is a different situation from the magnificent performance on the Good Will Hunting script. Conversely, Gerry is a bold, cinematic venture where the three men basically went out into the desert in the middle of nowhere and improvised the body of a film. Hearkening back to his early days of independent movie-making, Van Sant takes a starkly minimalist approach to this production. In fact, several of the people who viewed the film at Sundance described it as a sort of spirit sister to the mystical journey taken in Eyes Wide Shut. Once Damon and Affleck's characters arrive at their destination and begin their trek into the bushy wilderness, the film takes a sharp turn for the figurative, with the players being motivated by the visual imagery of their surroundings.
The story of Gerry had been held as a closely-guarded secret during production, but after the screening at the Sundance Festival, a lot of details came out about the film. For starters, the name Gerry refers to what Damon and Affleck's characters call each other throughout the movie. Next, the film attempts to drive home the theme of isolation and wandering by limiting the dialogue between the only two characters in the movie, Gerry and Gerry. Over half of the film occurs in silence, as Van Sant attempts to mystify audiences with spellbinding cinematography using the surroundings shot in Argentina and later in the Death Valley area of Utah.
Gerry becomes a film of two men struggling against a merciless environment which imprisons them and refuses to set them free. Their struggle occurs in the void of silence, with dialogue being used only to punctuate the precarious nature of their situation. Most of their interactions are laced with gallows humor, as they are well aware of the hopeless nature of their fight. Tracking shots using real time attempt to bring the audience over to the desert world that surrounds the Gerrys and make us empathize with their plight. The polarized nature of the reviews emphatically demonstrates how some viewers did just this while the others spent the body of the film looking at their watches. This is not an easy film, but if you are not a movie fan who needs to be spoon-fed dialogue, Gerry promises one of the most unique cinematic experiences of the year.
With a tiny budget of $7 million and an A-list star coming off a blockbuster action film - Matt Damon for The Bourne Identity - it's easy to expect that no matter how difficult the subject matter of Gerry may be, the film should be a financial winner for its distributor, the up-and-coming ThinkFilm Inc., as long as they hold up to their end of the bargain with regards to marketing. (David Mumpower/BOP)