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Camera tells the story in 'Gerry'

Friday, April 11, 2003

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Film Critic

Matt Damon and Casey Affleck are walking rather than waiting for Godot in Gus Van Sant's extraordinary new film, "Gerry."


RATING: R for mild profanity and adult subject matter

STARRING: Casey Affleck, Matt Damon

DIRECTOR: Gus Van Sant


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Talk about existentialist. Talk about minimalist. And survivalist. Which do you want to talk about first?

Minimal cast: Damon and Affleck. Period.

Existential plot: Two guys get lost during a wilderness hike out West.

From its opening highway sequence onward, the physical and metaphysical dilemmas of their story unfold, then merge, in slow, mesmerizing silence. Damon (in the title role) and Affleck rarely talk to each other until, having veered from the trail, they find themselves lost and forced to spend the night around a campfire. Second day: even more lost -- no panic, but mounting concern. Third day: adventure turns into life-or-death survival game.

Co-written by Van Sant, Damon and Affleck, who have teamed up previously (with Casey's brother Ben) on "Good Will Hunting" (1997) and "Finding Forrester" (2000), the story is not all that original. What is unique is the storytelling: the enormously long takes and slow pans, devoid of dialogue, during which we have time to examine every square inch of those purple mountains' majesty or those fabulous rolling tumbleweeds in the frame.

"In America, films have to be like fireworks, where you push the audience along quickly and don't let them think," says Van Sant, creator of "Drugstore Cowboy" (1989) and "My Own Private Idaho" (1991). "One of the tragedies of the advent of sound in the movies is that everything is basically about talk."

He is right. The slow, dreamy, almost hallucinatory rhythm of "Gerry" is full of long, lovely silences that allow for -- no, require! -- reflection. The camera itself, with breathtaking dolly-back reverse zooms of clouds and scenery, does much of the narrative work. Sparse, occasional piano-violin chords perfectly embellish the visuals.

Casey's soft, mumbly character and Damon's strong, tougher one are beautifully executed. But there's a ponderous "Zabriskie Point" sort of Antonioni feel to it overall: Mighty man, defeated by his pathetic disorientation. "My kingdom for a bird's-eye view!" A bit too profound and (at 103 minutes) a bit too long, "Gerry" hovers in the limbo between agony and ecstasy.

Barry Paris can be reached at 412-263-3859.

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