Film Reviews

Last Days Gus Van Sant

Rating - 6/10

Completing what can be best described as a quasi-trilogy of standalone, meditative films (Gerry and Elephant being the first two instalments), Last Days is Gus Van Sant's ode to the final days of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain's life. Sort of. With the impossibly pretty Michael Pitt (The Village, The Dreamers and, er, Dawson's Creek) playing the role of stoner rock-star Blake, Last Days is in truth a poetically delivered piece of observational cinema about the spiritual withering of an artist no longer in bloom.

As with Elephant (a fictionalised dramatisation of the Columbine High School shootings), the director has again chosen a subject matter sensationalised by the world's media, and stripped it down to its most realistic and immediate. With over twenty-five minutes of the film passing without any dialogue, Van Sant sets his subdued and sparse stall out from the get-go. Oliver Stone's The Doors this is not.

Holed-up with a group of hangers-on in a suitably decaying country retreat, Blake is a stumbling, mumbling wreck, drifting in and out of consciousness. Pitt is excellent as the detached musician, playing the role with the understated grace needed for a film in which his character goes for a walk, comes home, passes out for a bit, plays some music and then books himself into l'Hôtel Bonne Nuit. Pretty mundane stuff. But then, that seems to be the point.

The minimalist and at times voyeuristic directorial approach taken by Van Sant not only helps to reclaim the mundanity of Cobain's last days from hyperbolic newspaper headlines, but the technique also allows the director to juxtapose the film's two main themes; mocking the viewers for their morbid fascination with the private acts of a man about to take his own life, whilst simultaneously distancing us enough from the musician's reasons to suggest that Blake/Cobain's suicide defies external interpretation.

The only drawback with this approach is that by denying the audience any insight into Blake's troubled mind, the film never achieves any genuine moments of pathos. The lack of a context in which to place Blake's depression renders the character a pathetic rock'n'roll cliché, too strung out to communicate, let alone live. Those who worship at the Church of Kurt will no doubt see this as an attack on their idol, but as lead star Michael Pitt has said, Last Days is intended as a film for Kurt Cobain, not about him.

At its best the film offers moments that resonate with the detached eloquence that such a sorry tale deserves. Demanding, frustrating and occasionally downright dull however, Last Days is at times the cinematic equivalent of sitting through a string quartet rendition of Smells Like Teen Spirit. Nevermind, eh?