This film finally answers the question, what do Matt Damon and Casey Affleck do on their down time: they walk. Seriously though, comedy aside, what we have here is admittedly a film that will not be well received by all audiences, but also will be loved by others.
We meet two guys named Gerry, going on a hike to a massive canyon to get to "the thing" (What I assume is a special area in their hike), so they walk, and walk, and walk, and walk, and walk for twenty minutes without dialogue, not even narration, but there's an endless dolly shot of the two walking courtesy of director Gus Van Sant who goes back to his indie roots. So after the two Gerry's walk and walk and walk and playfully run through bushes they get tired, so they say "fuck the thing!" and they turn and whaddya think happens next? Zombies? No no, they walk and walk and walk without dialogue... and realize... they're lost.
It seems tedious and pretentious and I had that suspicion that Van Sant's intentions for the film was to do just that, but it serves a purpose, it serves a meaning, and within the quiet, calmness and emotionless expressions, we get the sense these two just may be lost, and the problem with them is that they don't realize it, or perhaps they refuse to realize it because they don't want to face that they may just be lost without any help, no water, no food, and no way of getting home.
So, along with the simply stunning cinematography by Harris Savides who features incredible mountains, grass, deserts and rock terrain and landscapes along with wide shots of clouds and sun seeping through the clouds without any dialogue, there's simply no dialogue for long periods of time. This film will test your patience, some may stick around to see what's going to develop, as I did, and some will just decide to shut it off and watch something else, but don't, because while there's long periods without dialogue, the rare dialogue spoken between Matt Damon and Casey Affleck is charming and riveting, especially the scene in which Damon's character meets up with Affleck's character in a spot after a failed attempt to look for water, and Affleck is "marooned" as he says a top a very tall rock, so we watch for fifteen minutes as Damon builds a dirt mattress, scooping dirt with his shirt, bedding it as Affleck waits to jump. It's so simple and one note, but oddly it's so riveting to watch because these two have a great chemistry, maybe more so than Damon ever had with Ben Affleck.
Written by the two stars and director, this barely has any dialogue so I imagine the script may have been grueling to read as it was to watch, I can almost picture the studio exec reading twenty pages into this and tossing it aside screaming "Screw this, let's make "Gigli" instead!" Now when I say this is grueling to watch I mean it. We watch the two suffer, and suffer they do for over an hour and half. They walk and sweat and soon begin to dehydrate and starve and go delirious and inevitably see no point in moving on because there's simply no hope.
You feel bad for them and want to see if they make it out alive aside from the fact we know nothing about them. Sort of like a docudrama in a sense, we watch them walk and walk, one long scene shows them walking through a desert for thirty minutes straight. But there are also so many scenes in the film that will tug at your heart that made it simply difficult to sit through including their evident dehydration, and a gripping hallucination from Affleck who makes a confession. The film is brutal and within the quiet and long drawn out silences, and straight faces there's a sense of horror, a sense of dread and grim finality that becomes so resonant to the audience, we sit and watch hoping and we eventually go "They're not going to survive".
It's just like a bad dream to say the least, the dream where we enter into a fantasy and end up in a nightmare, an inescapable nightmare, but it's reality and we watch the metamorphosis of these two men from jokers to survivors, we watch their level heads and charming sarcasm turn to searing madness, insanity, and delirium while we get the sense these two are looking for something, something beyond water, food or an escape, however it's never explained. Van Sant lets us feel the searing heat from the sand, the heat from the sun, the cold from the desert nights and it never becomes a gimmick, it never becomes a thriller despite the fact it bears such a grim and dreary tone in its storytelling, there's a horror in its simplicity and that's what makes this such a horrible story, it's simple and never spectacular. What results is ultimately a brutal and damn depressing story with such a gripping heartbreaking ending, it will simply leave you stunned. Do they make it out of the desert? Have to watch this to find out.
Many will say this is boring (it is), pointless (it sure is), and nonsensical (bingo), so why did I like this so much? Well, for so many reasons, but within its story there's also no real point to it. Two guys walk into the desert and get lost, that's the plot and there's no point to it. They walk and walk and walk and walk for twenty to thirty minutes without dialogue and I was losing patience really fast, so fast that even the opening scene tried me, the opener in which we see Damon and Affleck's characters driving their car through the road, no dialogue, no set up, no narration, no music in the car, just silence for twenty minutes straight.
I'd heard there were instances in this with such scenes but I never expected it would be this ridiculous. It begs you to be bored, tinkers with tedium, dares to be dull, and has a sheer knack for nonsense. The plot is zero here, it's two guys trying to survive, that's all, there's nothing, no other characters, no plot devices, no sudden glimpses of water, it's just a quite tedious and pretentious effort in part of director Van Sant who seems as if he doesn't quite know what he's trying to accomplish or bring across to the audience. If someone asked you what this is about, you could explain it in one sentence: "Two guys go to take a hike in the mountains and get lost". See? What are the writers trying to say in this? What do they want to convey? Give us something, but it's really long, and really drawn out. Many will surely lose patience while watching, and it's understandable.
There's a good chance about 65 percent of you will not like
this, but I did, simply for it's study of madness, and sheer misery
within these two characters. While it's pointless and nonsensical many
times, it's also riveting and heartbreaking.