I'd imagine plenty of nerds would say that this isn't the only time the story behind Kurt Cobain's death has been fabricated, and quite frankly, I don't really care enough to add to that, and I don't think that this film helped, and it's supposed to make you think or something. The title to "Elephant" was too abstract for folks to get its relevance... which pertained to a drawing of an elephant on one of the shooter's room (Ah, so you did ignore the elephant in the room), and we never found out if the guys in "Gerry" were really named Gerry, but don't worry, because Gus Van Sant has finally decided to give up on subtlety and just call this film about a guy living out his last days "Last Days". It's a fitting end for the ironically also lazily titled "Death Trilogy"... unless, of course, you feel that the "Death Trilogy" is defined by its style, in which case, wouldn't "Paranoid Park" be part of a "Death Tetralogy"? This series is about as convoluted as it is oversimplified, because if it's not defined by its stupid abstractionist style, then it's still a tetralogy, because the remake of "Psycho" was also a story about death that was loosely inspired by notorious true events. No, I wouldn't even shame Gus Van Sant's "Psycho" by bunching it in with these films, and I would hope that the majority would agree with me, even if they didn't like Van Sant's "Psycho", but alas, people can get way too celebratory of "art" that actually doesn't do anything outside something different, as Kurt Cobain taught me. I guess that an abstract art film, even one that actively changes its focus' name and certain events surrounding its focus, is the proper way to interpret the story of Cobain's death, except where Cobain just made a bunch of noise, this film is too quiet for its own good. Yeah, forget Nirvana, and forget this film, although I must admit that Nirvana had their occasions, not unlike this film.
A typically ethereally quiet drama, this film underplays its soundtrack, which, upon being played upon, delivers on some dynamic, yet consistently decent (Well, Michael Pitt's "The Day" is some nonsense) tunes and compositions that, on top of being aesthetically engaging, help in defining to tone of this very independent and abstractionist drama. Visual style is also a commendable, more recurrent aristic touch, for although Harris Savides' cinematography, while not quite as distinguished as it was in something like "Elephant", often gets to be flat with coloration and lighting, when it really shines on through, it all but immerses by celebrating distinguished environments and imagery. Just as it has throughout the "Death Trilogy", when style works in the context of substance, it's because of Gus Van Sant's directorial thoughtfulness, which is generally seriously detrimental to the cold final product, but with genuinely effective occasions that are near-hypnotic in their drawing on the heart of this minimalist drama. A loose interpretation of Kurt Cobain's falling into mental instability and eventually to death supposedly by his own hand, this film's subject matter is executed in a manner so thinned down that the final product borders on plotless, but there is a narrative, at least on paper, it's intriguing, with thematic and dramatic value as an intimate human portrait. What most endears you to the human depths of this film more than the storytelling is, of course, the acting, at least that of leading man Michael Pitt, whose performance isn't written too much less thinly than those of Pitt's peers, but is more challenging, crafting a role of a mentally unstable celebrity brought to a breaking point by pressure and addiction that Pitt sells every step of the way by nailing an awkward intensity, punctuated by some powerful, subtle dramatic notes that define the dramatic highlights of this generally flat opus. If the film aims to be subtle, I would at least hope that it would be as inspired as Pitt's performance, and yet, that's not to say that the final product is as unnerving as its predecessors, being a sloppy affair whose highlights shine brightly enough for the final product to all but achieve decency. Still, in the end, this is yet more misguided artistic ambition from Van Sant, and it viciously betrays worthy subject matter whose well is still admittedly limited by its own right.
As I said, this film's story concept is pretty interesting, but it's not as though it's substantially less minimalist than its naturalist interpretation, being set within a relatively brief time frame and a relatively light scale as a character study whose conceptually minimalism doesn't even leave all that much room for exposition. Well, perhaps the film shouldn't be quite as underdeveloped as it ultimately is, for Gus Van Sant, as screenwriter, follows the tradition for the supposedly humanly intimate "Death Trilogy" of abandoning immediate character development and making the drama's expository value all the more frustrating by paying very, very little attention to gradual characterization within all of the aimless meditations. Really, this film's storytelling doesn't pay much attention to anything of substance, because as if the subject matter itself isn't thin enough, there's hardly any narrative focus to storytelling that ultimately places style over substance. I guess I'd be a little more willing to accept this overstylization if the style wasn't questionable enough to begin with, thriving on ethereal meditations on thematic meanderings, if not pure nothingness, until the film falls flat thematically and dramatically. Of course, if Van Sant does settle down the bloated overplay of his artistic license as a storyteller, he still never quite gets past all of the dragging, because even though the film only runs about 96 minutes, considering that substance is so thin, filler goes padded out to the point of an aimlessness which makes it about as difficult for viewers to focus on the direction of this drama as the narrative itself, while stiffening pacing that is ultimately all but brought to a halt by a cripplingly cold atmosphere. As if Van Sant doesn't shake momentum enough as screenwriter, as director, he really slows things down with a thoughtfulness that so very rarely has anything to draw upon with all of its subtlety, which is therefore predominantly nothing more than tediously dry and empty, and when Van Sant does pick up something to his directorial atmosphere, it's typically a sense of pretense. I don't know if the film feels as pretentious as "Gerry" or "Elephant", and that might be what makes the final product relatively superior, but this overblown artistic expression is still pretty demanding of your respect, while doing only so much to earn it, betraying potential, no matter how limited, with a questionably overwrought and tedious style that bores much more than it aesthetically impresses.
Once the days run out, the final product finds itself driven by a fair soundtrack, handsome visual style, and highlights to direction and acting - especially by worthy leading man Michael Pitt - to the brink of decency, ultimately lost in the midst of natural shortcomings to reasonably worthy subject matter which is further thinned out by the developmental emptiness, unfocused storytelling, exhausting overstylization, aimless dragging and tediously cold, if not pretentious atmosphere which render Gus Van Sant's "Last Days" a fittingly misguided and mediocre conclusion to the "Death Trilogy".
2.25/5 - Mediocre