Gus Van Sant’s Last Days is a film about the death of Kurt Cobain. While the name of the main character has been changed from Kurt to Blake and the setting of the suicide changed from a greenhouse in Seattle to a greenhouse in upstate New York, there’s no mistaking this film is the product of Van Sant’s imagination pursuing the final, lonely moments of the great ’90s icon. Rock biopic fans seeking a traditionally gratifying plot should run as fast as they can from this movie and see Rock Star or Sid and Nancy instead; Gus Van Sant’s methodology is all about the slow, oppressive creep of time.
One shot lingers excruciatingly long on some random foliage outside Blake’s (Michael Pitt, The Dreamers) mansion. In another, he makes cereal. Then he sits on a bench for awhile. Or mumbles dialogue to a Yellow Pages ad salesman played by a real-life Yellow Pages ad salesman. Or gradually collapses while watching a Boyz 2 Men video. Meanwhile, Blake’s parasitical hangers-on are slightly more animated, occupying his chilly house and clearly on their way to becoming as existentially destitute as he.
Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon appears, pretty much reprising an interventionist role she must have played with the real-life Cobain, but this rock star is far beyond rescuing from the brink. Later, when Blake ventures into town to see a punk show, he is cornered by an acquaintance played by Harmony Korine, who tells him a hilarious story about playing Dungeons and Dragons with Jerry Garcia. Where the accumulation of small moments like these don’t add up to much drama, they create a pervading sense of dread and sad inevitability. In his life, Cobain railed against all that was phony and hyped; by crafting a visual poem resolutely defiant of rock star spectacle, Van Sant honors the late singer as sincerely as he can, by keeping it real.