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103 minutes of Eastern drek

Film review: GERRY

“A triumph!” “Provocative!” “Visually spectacular!” “One of the year’s 10 best!” (best what is not specified) were the blurbs on the back of this film I got from the library. The exclamation points alone should have tipped me off that this was going to be outrageously bad, and famously Bostonian Matt Damon and Casey Affleck should have been ashamed to have had anything to do with this crap. Shame on them that they shared writing credits with director Gus Van Sant. I’m guessing the three of them were driving out to Wendover one July with beers in their laps, looked around and thought, “Wow! A guy could get pretty lost out here!” and then somebody started writing stuff down, and voila, this drek.

Plot: Uncommunicative Eastern idiots, apparently in good enough shape to survive without water for several days, get lost and make lots of bad decisions (like hiking away from wood and water sources onto salt flats) in an unnamed hostile Western wilderness

Film title: Gerry (supposedly after the pet name they each they call each other, but that wasn’t too clear)

Theme: Eastern US men’s idiocy

Setting: A nameless western wilderness that includes Elko, Nevada, and the gorgeous wastes of Death Valley and Bonneville flats, Utah.

Genre: Hikers being incredibly stupid noir (and I’m being generous with the noir part)

After a lot of sitting silently in a car, Damon and Affleck inexplicably start hiking a trail marked “Wilderness Trail.” Why the BLM or a state or national park or wilderness area would post that generic title on some trail which probably had a perfectly good actual name I can’t say. They might have had maybe a bottle of water when they started, but otherwise no backpack and maybe one sweatshirt between them. I could have watched this disaster a second time to catch more details, but I didn’t want to writhe in twisted agony a second time.

I wondered if this was Van Sandt’s first trip beyond New Jersey or wherever he’s from. I promised myself I wouldn’t Google him or look at any information about Gerry before writing this.

After walking through high desert scrub (maybe the Elko, Nevada, part) and then leaping to Death Valley barrenness (I recognized those dried popcorny mud hills immediately), and then venturing out onto our iconic Bonneville Salt Flats, these two Eastern ignoramuses realize they’re pretty, well, lost. Why they left the areas where they could get lots of dry wood I don’t know. I kept waiting for a Blair Witch-kind of scene going nuts with each other when they realize how screwed they are, but no. How they knew how to build a fire I don’t know. Maybe that’s hardwired into even an Easterner. Maybe they’d been Boy Scouts. Not great Boy Scouts, but. Why they walked out onto barren land when they were already dying of thirst I also don’t know. Why nobody was looking for them after finding their car parked at the trailhead . . . well, you get the dismal cinematic picture.

The end has a Brokeback Mountainy kind of scene where I guess Matt Damon was choking his friend to death rather than dying together on the salt flats. Damon then walks away from Affleck’s body, sees I-80, gets picked up by a guy and his son in an SUV, and sits expressionless in lots of sunburn makeup till the end credits. That’s when I saw that the scrub brush hiking must have been near Elko.

I end this pan with the words written on the film case by the three men’s agents or maybe their girlfriends, “. . . this uncommonly compelling and starkly visualized film is a must-see motion picture that has earned the overwhelming praise of critics nationwide!” Again with the exclamation point. I’d never felt like more of a Westerner looking down my nose.

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