Saturday, March 6, 2010

Last Days

(Gus Van Sant, USA, 2005)

An intermittently interesting film, but mostly a frustrating one. It's hard to tell exactly what Van Sant is after, and where he went wrong - did he aim too high and miss, or not aim high enough? I'd like to think it's the former, but that would only be giving him the benefit of the doubt. The subject matter is serious enough: it's the final film in Van Sant's informal "death trilogy" - but the film doesn't have much to say on the topic of mortality, instead offering a series of moody sketches that alternate between the staid and the vaguely comic.

Blake - the Kobain character played by Pitt - doesn't seem so much tormented as bored and even autistic; there's no interest in his character as anything other than the mythic late-century American grunge artist. He is alone, isolated, misunderstood, practically a ghost. Even when the other characters - a wispy cadre of junkie hangers-on - notice him and attempt to communicate, it's as if they're talking through him. There's plenty of room for speculation, especially on the symbolic level - is Blake's mumbling meant to suggest his inability to properly convey his pain, or the world's inability to listen? Or is it just a literal depiction of someone who's too stoned to speak up? Is he in pain at all, or just grouchy and passive, cooling his heels in solitude and casting lazily about for some transcendent kicks? Last Days winds up feeling like a pastiche of an art film, a dabbling in structuralism, with some moments of humor and irony thrown in for good measure. I don't think of Van Sant as cynical - it's a sincere picture, but it doesn't feel committed. Certain scenes and shots are very good - mostly where the mood lightens, as when the Yellow Pages salesman comes calling - but the overall effect is one of irritation. There's no lasting coherence, and the finished product feels like the work of someone who is trading on a moment of cultural infamy without anything significant to say - about the culture, the art, or the people.

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