DIRECTED BY Gus Van Sant
STARRING Matt Damon, Casey Affleck
Opens August 22, Cert 15, 103 mins
Gus van sant has remembered recently that he was once a risky indie auteur, imbuing both this lo-fi existential road movie and his Cannes prize-winner Elephant with the kind of stylistic zing and skewed narrative drift not seen in his work since My Own Private Idaho.
Conceived and largely improvised on the hoof by its stars and director, Gerry is an elegantly sparse and deadpan fable about two young men (both called Gerry) whose aimless backwoods ramble turns first into anxious farce, then absurd tragedy, under the scalding desert sun. Think Dude, Where’s My Car? scripted by Samuel Beckett.
It’s a slight story, but also a beguiling and haunting one, with echoes of golden-age arthouse fare, from Roeg’s Walkabout to Wenders’ Paris, Texas by way of Antonioni’s The Passenger. The slender plot certainly relies heavily on the charm of its two leads and, as usual, Damon feels a little wooden. Rising star Affleck, younger brother of Ben, brings less baggage and seems more natural. But the pair are clearly off-screen friends and their conversations are gloriously, plausibly inane. One extended scene, in which Affleck jumps down from a column of rock, borders on comic genius.
Gerry is going to divide Van Sant’s fanbase more sharply than anything he’s made in the past decade. John Waters has proclaimed, “Don’t sleep with anybody who doesn’t love this film,” which is funny but perhaps protesting too much. This kind of cliquey caper can easily shade into navel-gazing tedium?much like Vincent Gallo’s similarly-paced road movie The Brown Bunny, which was laughed out of Cannes in May.
On balance, Damon and Van Sant’s return to the lo-fi darklands smacks a little of indie penance, a bracing cold shower to wash away the stink of ultra-commercial bilge like Finding Forrester, The Bourne Identity or the same duo’s vastly overrated tear-jerker, Good Will Hunting. But Gerry is also a daringly minimal, serenely beautiful visual poem. In an ideal universe, every big-name star and director should have the balls to attempt this kind of personal project between formulaic mainstream outings. More please.