About a year before making Elephant, Gus Van Sant headed out into the wilderness with Casey Affleck and Matt Damon made Gerry—an improvised drama based upon the Kodikian and Coughlin story, which had happened just a few years earlier. Very little happens in the movie. Two guys go hiking. They get lost. They are near death. Affleck asks Damon to kill him and is rewarded with being strangled. Then Damon finds they are right by a highway. The film ends with him in a car, being driven away as he looks at the scenery.
I wrote before that Elephant moved at a glacial pace. Well, I need a new adjective. Gerry moves at a geological pace. There is one five minute shot of the two actors walking in profile. It is an amazing moment in the film. I could hardly believe that it went on so long. And most of the movie is like that: a long shot of the two guys walking; a close up of the two guys walking; several minutes of clouds; the two guys talk about what they should do. Repeat until running time equals an hour and forty minutes.
And yet, I found it impossible to turn away. The shots are beautiful. There is a relentless dramatic momentum. The biggest problem with the film is its dialog scenes. Most of these sound improvised by actors who are hardly masters at the art form. Nonetheless, as a viewer, I wanted to know how it was all going to go horribly wrong. Let’s face it, a director doesn’t show you long images of storm clouds gathering when a happy ending is on the menu.
Gerry is not a film you are likely to watch twice. If you want to experience something like this, you are better off with just about any Jim Jarmusch film. Dead Man comes to mind, but Down By Law would work as well. But it was an interesting artistic attempt. And it has me very eager to watch Restless, which has received bad reviews but looks to be much more lyrical than usual for Van Sant. But the main thing is that I think his work is worth checking out—just not if you’ve seen it advertised anywhere.