HBO // 2005 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // December 3rd, 2005
Rock and Roll will never die.
Written by Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting), Last Days is loosely based on Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain's final days before ending his life in 1993. Is Van Sant's film closer to To Die For than to Gerry?
The concept is interesting, as Blake (Michael Pitt, The Village) leaves rehab and stumbles home, where Scott (Scott Green, Cthulu) and Asia (Asia Argento, xXx) stay. Various individuals come in and out of the house over the next couple of days, before Blake is found dead in the guest house.
A warning here, there is very little action in the film, to the point of being tedious. Aside from some internal monologues, there is no character interaction for the first 20 minutes of the film. There is a dolly shot that pans out from the room where Blake is recording some music, and it gently keeps panning out. And out. And out. For five minutes. The last minute or so of the Boyz II Men video "On Bended Knee" plays on a TV. So those who are looking for indelible dialogue may want to go elsewhere.
As Blake, Pitt gets points for looking a lot like Cobain, to the point where it's a little bit eerie, but his performance is mumbled almost entirely, except for a couple of lucid words when talking to a Yellow Pages salesman who visits the house. And the supporting cast ad libs various scenes that border on incoherent. Aside from a same sex make-out scene with one of the band members (Lukas Haas, Mars Attacks!), all Scott seems to do is sing along to Velvet Underground songs.
Now having said these things about the film, it appears that Van Sant's style for the film is purposely distant and quiet; because his intent is that no one apparently wanted to listen to Blake. He was a commodity and business opportunity first, before being a musician and emotional human being. His management is only concerned about the money to be made and the tours to be taken, and issues stern warnings about what will happen to everyone else except him if the tour doesn't start on time. Everyone in the house steps over Blake when he passes out in the middle of hallways or closets, and the only meaningful conversation in the film is one that Blake has with the Yellow Pages salesman. While he is unaware of it, the salesman seems to be asking questions about Blake's days before this, and what his feelings on the future may be, and this does have some effect, but the rest of the film lessens the impact of that scene.
The reason why this film gets such a low video score is that about the 1 hour, 5 minute mark, there appears to be a video encoding error that lingers for several minutes on the 4:3 version of the film (sorry, it was the original version of the film, so I stuck with it). I didn't see this on the widescreen version of the film, but this should serve as an FYI to the purists out there. For extra material, the film has some minimal extras. Aside from a 20 minute look at the making of the movie that is disjointed and incoherent, there's a video by the fictional group included, and an 8 minute deleted scene, shot entirely with a fixed overhead angle that is nice. A look at the dolly shot in the movie shows you why production assistants and teamsters are vital to a film's production, as their pragmatic steps in walking the tracked camera backwards shows you how exact things need to be sometimes.
Van Sant may hate to hear it, but more activity and interesting characters would have probably made this a more palatable film. The scripted scenes are good, but they are few and far between. What could have been an underrated gem winds up being something a bit redundant, especially if you've already read Cobain's journals or sorted through a plethora of information that can be found on his life.
I really wanted to enjoy this film, but there is just too much inertia going on, and its tone is almost prevocational because of what does or doesn't occur. There is lost potential for the film, which also could be said about the musician Van Sant was attempting to remember.
Van Sant is found guilty for his execution of Last Days, but is acquitted for the heart he seems to try to put into it. Hopefully a better film will come along to eulogize a great musician who left the world far too early.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* The Making of Last Days
* "The Long Dolly Shot"
* Music Video
* Deleted Scene
* Official Site