Near the end of Gus Van Sants fictionalized elegy to Kurt Cobain, the rock star, barely disguised as a disintegrating musician named Blake with lank blond hair and the stubbly face of an angel, is visited by a record executive played by another indie-rock icon, Sonic Youths Kim Gordon who tries to persuade him to come away with her, and asks him whether hes spoken to his baby daughter. Do you say, Im sorry that Im a rock & roll cliché? she says sadly, and leaves empty-handed. Doped to the gills and barely registering the world around him, Blake (whos played by The Dreamers Michael Pitt) comes close to the stereotype of the suffering rock idol. But Van Sants startlingly beautiful and original film serves precisely to rescue Cobain from the clutches of the mawkish biopic that, sooner or later, will be made about him. Imagine a Kurt Cobain movie by Oliver Stone rubber tourniquets biting into a skinny arm, flashbacks to warring parents, fawning crowds, Courtney losing it on- and offstage, the imploring eyes of their neglected baby, the climactic shot ringing out and youll see everything Last Days is not. Next to nothing is known about the immediate circumstances surrounding Cobains death, but one senses and thats the operative word in this preternaturally silent, impressionistic and intensely descriptive movie that Last Days edges closer to the truth of a soul burning itself out than any documentary could, and I mean no disrespect to Nick Broomfields Kurt & Courtney. This is not a film about sex (the nearest thing to an erotic encounter not counting the one between the camera and Asia Argentos lovely bum happens mostly offscreen), drugs (nobody actually shoots up) or, for that matter, rock & roll (the one sustained piece of music is not from Nirvana but from an MTV video of Boyz II Men singing on Bended Knee). Theres no stand-in for Courtney Love, and though Blake totes an old hunting rifle over his shoulder, we never see him die. Instead, a camera at once matter-of-fact, poetic and intermittently goofy tracks Blake as he stumbles around his leafy Pacific Northwest estate (shot in upstate New York) and his cavernous, decrepit mansion, mumbling to himself, flicking away mosquitoes, making macaroni and cheese, watching television. The phone goes unanswered, people come and go. Blake runs away from friends, his record producer, a private detective (Ricky Jay) and proselytizing Mormon twins, then in one funny and unnerving scene in which Pitt appears clad in a lacy black slip and combat boots he courteously receives a Yellow Pages salesman, murmuring his assent to the pitch as his head sinks closer and closer to his knees. Pitts terrific performance is clearly improvised yet also superbly controlled and minimalist. Van Sants camera rests on Blake, or pulls away slowly as what remains of the artist rallies in a brief burst of musical creation, or shifts slowly to the foliage and the house that dwarf him, the band members and hangers-on who alternately ignore and importune him. Last Days is all of a piece with Van Sants two previous movies, Elephant and Gerry, both torn from the headlines, both quiet stories about unquiet events. Van Sant offers no history, no psychology of Cobain, only whats happening or more crucially, not happening in the moment. The physical landscape is transformed into an emotional geography of appalling isolation, and we are brought to feel what its like to grow so indifferent to the world and the self, to be so unable to speak in words or song, that death seems the only escape. Cobain is neither deified nor exonerated of responsibility for his decline. Instead, Last Days makes a virtue of not knowing. LAST DAYS | Written and directed by GUS VAN SANT | Produced by VAN SANT and DANY WOLF | Released by Fine Line Features | At Laemmles Sunset 5, Laemmles Monica 4-Plex and Laemmles Playhouse 7
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.