Film Reviews

LAST DAYS

By • Jul 22nd, 2005 •

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HBO Films
No MPAA rating / Running time — 97 minutes

QUOTE: Accurate, harrowing and creepy.

In 1994 Seattle grunge-god Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, not wanting to mess up his house, went to a room above his garage, injected himself with a three-times-the-lethal dose of heroin, wrote a note, put away his works, and then shot himself in the face with a shotgun. His friends claim, on the websites I visited, that in the days before he died he looked great, was upbeat, and was not suicidal. (They are off-the-hook for not recognizing Kurt needed watching.) Well, since no one called Kurt in the hours before he killed himself, my theory is he was keeping a secret he was very ashamed about. Perhaps someone was threatening to make it public? Hence, the shotgun to the face.

Or was it murder? Private detective Tom Grant, who was hired by Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love, has been astonishingly vocal in his well-publicized theory. Grant believes it was a murder facilitated by Love. He poses some pretty interesting questions; mainly, how did Cobain manage to shoot up a massive, lethal “hot shot” dose of heroin and a benzodiazepine which would have either immediately rendered him incapacitated in a comatose state or killed him instantly, but then have the motor skills needed to aim a shotgun at his head and kill himself?

LAST DAYS is ‘inspired’ by the story of Cobain. Supposedly nobody knows what happened those last hours. Cobain was alone. Writer-director-editor Gus Van Sant offers no reason for the death of his rock star, Blake. For Van Sant, it was a simple suicide. No heroin was involved though Blake is clearly in a narcotic blur do to something. He can barely stand up.

If, like me, you burned off a year in Purgatory by sitting all the way through Van Sant’s 2002 film, GERRY, you will see in LAST DAYS that Van Sant is still haunted by some weird images. He likes stranded, isolated characters. Both films have their stars enveloped in catatonia. In GERRY, it was getting lost in a hostile environment. In LAST DAYS, Van Sant offers the most striking, and believable, portrait of a junkie and his life. It is probably pretty close to Cobain’s last days.

Since heroin addicts nod out and don’t talk much, Van Sant created a collection of hangers-on and drop-ins to frame the story. Otherwise, it would just be Blake sitting in a room scribbling in his notebook. If being a rock star and doing heroin was thought glamorous, LAST DAYS is the final nail pounded in the coffin.

A backstory isn’t necessary. Blake (Michael Pitt) is a drugged-out musician living in a shambled mansion. His daily activities are changing clothes (even a fetching black slip) and wandering in the woods surrounding his estate. He makes sure his rifle is always at his side. There are some druggie friends staying at the house but Blake is able to deftly avoid them. Even though he is a rock star, they ignore him.

How does someone like Blake function in the real world? The doorbell rings and Blake invites a Yellow Pages salesman (Thadeus A. Thomas) in. As Blake slips in and out of consciousness we see that he has completely lost the ability to communicate normally. At one point Blake actually becomes frozen attempting to pick something up.

Blake knows he is being sought after by his wife Asia (Asia Argento) who has hired a private detective (Ricky Jay) to find him. Though the detective drops by several times, he keeps missing Blake. Finally, a record executive (Kim Gordon) comes over and senses Blake needs help. She asks him if he thinks he is a fraud. Something about ‘creativity’ and being ‘washed up’ is bothering Blake.

Major celebrities and junkies have one thing in common: they have regressed into infantilism. Now, when a rock star becomes a junkie, we have someone like Blake. He can barely cook macaroni, doesn’t bother caring for himself, and hasn’t written a check or paid a bill in years.

Recognizing Van Sant’s iconic status in the world of MTV’ers (DRUGSTORE COWBOY, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, and ELEPHANT), perhaps he was ‘written in’ to the truth of Kurt Cobain’s last days. Van Sant’s version is dismal but realistic. Blake’s friends, family, and management just had to give up on him. He was totally incoherent and buried in a black fog. LAST DAYS is not pretty but ravishing in its keen understanding of a man falling head first into an abyss. Pitt does not falter and gives an emotionally riveting performance. This is not a role that a young actor does as an ‘audition piece’ for a major Hollywood action movie. Like Hilary Swank in BOYS DON?T CRY, it is a breakthrough performance. Pitt, barely verbal, grunting, and stumbling through the house, is the centerpiece of this basically single-character movie. It could not have been an easy shoot. Now, what will Nirvana fans think of LAST DAYS?


Cast:
Blake: Michael Pitt
Luke: Lucas Haas
Asia: Asia Argento
Scott: Scott Green
Nicole: Nicole Vicius
Detective: Ricky Jay
Donovan: Ryan Orion
Salesman: Thadeus A. Thomas

Credits:
Screenwriter/director/editor: Gus Van Sant
Producer: Dany Wolf
Director of photography: Harris Savides
Music consultant: Thurston Moore
Costumes: Michelle Matland

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