Oh, Gus Van Sant. What a nut you are! You were the one with the brilliantly bad idea of doing a shot-for-shot remake of “Psycho.” You made the surreally bad “Gerry,” which was nothing more than 90 minutes of Matt Damon and Casey Affleck wandering lost through a desert. You made the alarmingly generic, by-the-numbers “Finding Forrester.” You dramatized the Columbine shootings in the haunting “Elephant,” yet for some reason had the two heterosexual killers shower together and share a kiss before the massacre. You’re a loon, Gus! An absolute loon! And I love ya for it.
It used to be useless to criticize your filmmaking style, because we knew the next one would be different anyway. But man, you’re making me nervous. “Last Days” is three in a row (after “Gerry” and “Elephant”) that emphasize long, unbroken takes of people not doing anything. It worked for “Elephant,” because we knew what it was leading up to, and so there was import in the mundane, just-another-day activities of the unsuspecting students and their murderers. It did not work for “Gerry” because these were two anonymous characters whom we didn’t care about.
And now it doesn’t work for “Last Days,” either, for largely the same reason. Based on the final days of Kurt Cobain, “Last Days” shows an insane rock star named Blake (Michael Pitt) shuffling around his house in the woods, avoiding his friends, muttering to himself, playing the guitar and eventually dying. It shows his friends hanging around the same house, doing drugs, alternately avoiding Blake and looking for him, and fooling around with each other. All in loooooong takes with little dialogue and no action.
I suppose if this is an accurate re-creation of Cobain’s final days, down to the seemingly random details like a visit from the Mormon missionaries and a Yellow Pages salesman, then there are people who will be eager to see it — people who really, really want to know what Kurt Cobain’s last couple days on Earth were like, no matter how uneventful they were. But does anyone like that have the attention span necessary to endure this? Gus, you included a 30-second shot of a tree. We’re following Blake, he walks past a tree, and then we stop to look at the tree for a while. Why, Gus? Why THE HELL?! Does the tree symbolize something? Are you toying with our expectations? Or are you just being a PRETENTIOUS, SELF-INDULGENT JACKASS?!
I’m sorry, Gus. I didn’t mean to yell. You know I like you. But throw us a bone here, dude. Give someone who isn’t a devotee of Cobain a reason to watch this movie. Surely there are universal themes to be found in Kurt’s last days. Surely there is a “story” of sorts, something with elements resembling a beginning, middle and end. Or if not, then there must at least be a way of seeing what’s going through his mind. With Blake’s long hair and his downward gaze, the film is nearly over before we even get a good look at his face, at his big, frightened eyes. But by then, he’s become a self-parody, a laughable lunatic stumbling around his house eating cereal and playing dress-up. If there’s a real person in all this — a real point — he is lost in your stubbornly experimental filmmaking technique. Experiments are only interesting when they work, you know.
C (1 hr., 37 min.; )