Last Days Review
Ok, I'll come clean... I'd heard BBC 5's resident movie critic Mark Kermode list Last Days as his worst film of 2005 and I wanted to see if it really was as bad as he made out. He destroyed Guy Ritchie's Revolver in one of the most damming reviews of a film I'd ever heard, yet he still said Last Day's was worse... this I had to see! I like to make my own opinions of movies as invariably I disagree with critics and being of the “Grunge” generation I thought perhaps Mr. Kermode was missing something that only those of us who experienced the Seattle sound could appreciate.
I'm pretty confident that not many people reading this will have seen this movie at the cinema so this DVD will be most peoples first experience of this movie. The story is inspired by the last few hours before Kurt Cobain's death. I'd like to think I'm not spoiling anything by revealing that he dies at the end of this movie so it's the journey of how he got there that I'd like to focus on. Before I misrepresent what this film is about however, I should quickly set a few things straight. This movie does not tell a story in the conventional sense. For those Nirvana fans looking to find out the truth behind Cobain's death or a biopic about his life or how he came to be where he ended up, this is not it. By their own admission during one of the featurettes, the actors describe this not as a traditional film but as a piece of art. There is no script, very little dialogue and effectively no plot. What director Gus Van Sant seems to be doing here is putting you directly into Cobain's shoes to observe his last few hours and get a feeling of what it may have been like to be him at that time.
Whilst I didn't enjoy or completely understand the nuances of this film, I at least applaud Mr. Van Sant for his creative energy and for trying to push the boundaries of mainstream cinema - much like The Blair Witch Project (which used a similar approach in it's use of adlib and free-form direction), I can see this splitting audiences right down the middle as this is a love or hate movie. Personally I like to be entertained when I watch a movie and this is not entertaining - but if you assume that it a) isn't meant to be a conventional movie and b) is meant to put you in the mindset of someone who's about to blow their head-off with a shotgun, then you at least know what to expect with this film. Before watching this movie, I thankfully didn't know what it was like to have been released from rehabilitation, have substance abuse issues or be a “troubled genius” like Kurt Cobain (or Blake as he's referred to in this movie). Although I understand that Van Sant wants us to feel what it might have been like, the fact is, I don't want to feel like a suicidal drug addict so the viewing experience is not a pleasant one. Had the movie been more conventional, I'm sure a lot of people would have been interested to see more about Cobain's life or who he was, although perhaps a Backbeat or Ray style biopic would have gone against everything that he stood for in his brief but incandescent life.
I admit my last experience of Van Sant's movies was Good Will Hunting and by all accounts he's moved a long way from that conventional Hollywood style of film-making in his more recent works. Last Days is certainly a bold work, but ultimately it doesn't matter what one projects into the movie, there is no getting away from the content of the 96 minutes that one had to sit through. To give you an example of what watching this movie is like - there was no dialogue or action for the first 15 minutes (yep, I counted) - what you see is a disturbed Blake (read Cobain) played by Michael Pitt walking through the forest around his mansion mumbling to himself. He lights a fire. He swims in a lake. He urinates in the lake. That's it. Obviously we know all is not well with this man but Van Sant's attempts at showing us how “troubled” he is are a bit patronising at times. Do we really need to see him make a bowl of cereal and then put the cocoa-pops in the fridge and the milk on the counter to know he's not quite with it?
It is not just the film making that is experimental - there is often a double soundtrack, with other noises from another context running in parallel with what you are seeing on screen. Apparently this is supposed to aid your understanding of what is going to happen in that scene (according to an interview with the cinematographer on one of the extras), however I only found this distracting and annoying personally. Hopefully by now you will have a better understanding of what to expect when you watch this movie - your enjoyment will probably depend on what sort of person you are and how you perceive cinema as an art form. If you go to a modern art exhibition and see a white canvass with a red paint pot tipped on to it and think, hmm interesting but my five year old could have done that, then you probably won't like this movie! If you look at it and start welling up with emotion, seeing a vivid portrayal of the struggle of the oppressed masses against the relentless march of capitalism or something like that, then you'll be right at home here.