Last Days (2005)

        What to say about Gus Van Sant? This once promising director of
indie fare (
enjoyed mainstream success with
has been moving toward a cinema that is less about story and more in
line with that of European filmmaker Bela Tarr. Now this might appeal
to some (indeed many of my colleagues have fallen over themselves
to praise this film and Van Sant’s last two efforts
ELEPHANT), but to me, it smacks of pretension. The worst sin a
filmmaker can commit is to make something that is not dramatic;
staring at a screen filled with pretty pictures (like Stanley Kubrick’s
BARRY LYNDON) or trying to follow a nonlinear story told via sound
and images (pick any Claire Denis film) and I just want to gouge out
my eyeballs. And I had that desire almost as soon as this movie began.

        All the press notes and advance buzz claims that Van Sant was
“inspired” to make this film by the suicide of Nirvana lead singer Kurt
Cobain. It’s another “ripped from the headlines” story which Van Sant
adapted to the screen. (
GERRY was “inspired” by the story of two male
friends who got lost in the woods, while
ELEPHANT was Van Sant’s
meditation on the Columbine shootings.) The filmmaker often doesn’t
work from a completed screenplay, but whereas someone like Mike
Leigh works for months with his actors who improvise and create the
characters before shooting a frame, Van Sant lets his performers loose
with the cameras rolling, leading to mixed results at best.

        As in
ELEPHANT, there are seemingly endless tracking shots of
someone walking, with the camera positioned behind the character.
(Both films also include a weird, throwaway “gay” scene that induces
head scratching or headaches.)  We watch Blake (Michael Pitt) as the
Cobain-like rocker wander about his estate. He appears to have recently
been released from the hospital, or he fancies wearing a hospital
identification bracelet for fun – it’s never made clear. There are assorted
band members and groupies who also are living in his home. Van Sant
includes ridiculous scenes like one with a telephone advertisement
salesman, simply because he wanted to include the real-life salesman
in his film. There is such an amateurish quality to that scene, which is
near the beginning of the movie that my brain shut down. I’ll even
admit to nodding off during some of the tedious sequences. Then I felt
sorry for the actors, most of whom play characters with the same names.
Then I just stopped caring.

        LAST DAYS likely will divide critics and audiences. I'm sure some
of my colleagues will praise it while others will revile it. Well,
unabashedly, I’m in the latter camp.

Rating:                D
MPAA Rating:       R for language and some sexual content
Running time:      97 mins.

                              Viewed at Magno Review One.
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.