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— Liam Neeson, Kinsey

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It's all about the importance of character and the ability to face life's challenges. —Matt Anderson (review...)

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Gerry is a minimalist experiment in film that, depending on your tastes, is either a modest success or a resounding failure. It’s a movie that begs for a DVD full of extra features, but this Miramax release is almost as sparse as the movie.

Minimalist Movie

Damon and Affleck are a long way from home
Damon and Affleck are a long way from home

The story of Gerry is simple. Two friends (Matt Damon and Casey Affleck) go for a hike. They get lost and spend the rest of the film walking, resting, talking, figuring, and walking some more. The friends use “Gerry” as a transitive verb meaning “to screw up.” For example, they got lost because they Gerried their plans. Calling each other Gerry is like a friendly punch in the arm.

Gerry is full of very long takes. Some of these takes probably approach ten minutes. Some viewers might find this boring, particularly since some of them pass with no dialogue and no action other than walking. But really, what Van Sant does is almost unheard-of. It ought to be as interesting and unexpected as seeing a new movie musical.

It’s easy to overlook everything but the film’s unconventional presentation. Nevertheless, credit should go to Van Sant and Harris Savides for outstanding cinematography, not just the technical achievement of capturing the long takes, but for the gorgeous, well-framed shots of the landscape that remind us why hikers hike in the first place.

Credit should also go to Van Sant, Damon, and Affleck for the dialogue. Out of context it is unremarkable. They talk not just about how to get out of their predicament, but about Wheel of Fortune, about a computer game they both apparently play, and whatever happens to wander into their minds. They don’t talk often (which feels real), so it’s interesting to hear them start a conversation from out of the blue. In the context of being lost on a hike, the banality of the dialogue is funny and inspired.

The music is also well and sparsely used. A beautiful, slow, sad melody plays over the first shots of the two friends arriving at the trailhead. After that music is rarely used, except perhaps as a subtle gurgling, rhythmic, or ominous addition to an otherwise dry scene.

Gerry is more an experiment than a fully formed movie. It’s a film made for filmmakers and cinematographers. It’s a demo reel that shows what you can do with a small budget and a portable crew. The masses may not be interested, but film afficionados should take notice.

DVD Extras

There is only a single bonus feature on the Gerry disc, and it’s almost as minimalist as the movie itself. Salt Lake Van Sant is video footage from the set on a day that started for the crew at dawn. There are no interviews and no narration, although occasionally a crew member will say something to the camera. But unless you are interested in seeing what sort of equipment the company used, or whose face is behind the camera, it offers little insight.

In such a daring movie as Gerry, I’d much rather have heard an audio commentary, or an interview with Van Sant talking about his minimalist influences for this film. For example, Bela Tarr is a big influence, and this might have been an opportunity to introduce him to a wider audience. So it’s a shame that there is so little on this DVD.

Picture and Sound

Gerry ought to be seen in a theater. Not only is the desert cinematography gorgeous, but a theater — far away from the kitchen, the bathroom, or the pause button — is better suited to the story of lost hikers and Van Sant’s demanding style. At home, the temptation to give up on a challenging movie is too great. A fellow critic stuck it out when we saw the screening at the theater, but at home, he would have paused, fast-forwarded, or ejected the DVD.

That said, the picture on the DVD is very good. The movie is presented in its original widescreen (2.35:1) aspect ratio. The desert sky at dawn comes to life on your TV screen.

The sound too would have worked better in a theater. It is often subtle and quiet, so the controlled environment of a theater is better. At home, you might hear the heater clicking on, the fridge running, or water in the pipes. The DVD is encoded with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, although I never heard any sound coming from the rear speakers.


Gerry is one of the most interesting movies of 2003 (it opened in 2002 in some parts of the country). It is a challenging movie, and a lot of people may find it “boring.” If you’re more interested in watching movies than in the art of film, think twice before you see it.

But if you’re fed up with a mediocre year of movies, Gerry on DVD may be a refreshing surprise.