Last Days Review
We open on a woodland scene, where a mysterious figure is wandering alone. This is Blake (Pitt). We follow him in real time as he dawdles through the forest, dwarfed by the trees. Scrambling down an embankment, he strips to his boxers and swims in a pool. Later he makes a fire, and sleeps. The next day he returns to his house, an elegant but tatty stone mansion. He spends the day alone, avoiding the ‘friends’ who are staying with him, though he has some amusing encounters with a record company executive and a Yellow Pages salesman.
Blake is a musician, and people are looking for him. As the story progresses it becomes clear that he is a successful musician struggling with the weight of his professional obligations. Calls are made – he is needed, the record company wants to start planning his next tour. Blake can hardly speak at this point; impossible to imagine him headlining forty dates in fifty states. His ‘friends’ (Haas, Argento, Green) are actually hangers on who only approach him when they want money or help with their music. At one point, to escape them, he drives into the nearest town and goes to a club where naturally he is chatted up by a fan (Korine).
I can’t really write much more of a summary but as the story is inspired by Kurt Cobain I guess it won’t be much of a spoiler if you guess that Blake kills himself. Gus Van Sant is one of the odder filmmakers working in America today. Having finally achieved some measure of commercial success with Good Will Hunting he has since divided his time by making sentimental, GWH-redux nonsense like Finding Forrester, pointless Hitchcock tribute Psycho, and his more challenging existential trilogy, Gerry, Elephant and now Last Days. At least he’s not predictable!
As with Elephant and Gerry, there’s minimal dialogue. For a good twenty minutes, as we follow Blake through the woods, all we hear is birdsong, a train and his occasional mumblings and snatches of song. There’s no attempt to explore Blake’s interior thoughts, no real sense of what’s going on in his head except for what the viewer brings – the audience do all the work. Some people will love this, others will find it utterly exasperating.
Van Sant continues his tradition of working with exciting young actors; Michael Pitt, memorably last seen penetrating Eva Green in The Dreamers and casting off the label of poor man’s Leonardo de Caprio, clearly likes to push the envelope; here he channels the spirit of Cobain and every other musician who realises, too late, that fame is a poisoned chalice with almost uncanny ease, all greasy blond hair, struggling with the weight of his existence so much that he sometimes seems to find it hard to stay upright. The support are all fine but its Pitt’s film, with Van Sant’s camera dawdling along with him in leisurely fashion. Scenes are filmed in real time; with the camera planted in one position we watch from outside the window while Blake plays various musical instruments. This adds to our sense of distance and lack of engagement with the characters, Blake in particular.
Last Days is simultaneously exciting and mundane. Which is not a cop-out, honestly! There’s much to admire but little to love; its often po-faced in its seriousness and annoying when what little dialogue there is one strains to hear. Its an interesting companion piece to Dig!, a more straightforwardly ironic look at the music industry.
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