Waiting for denouement

Gus Van Sant has completed a trio of atmospheric films low on dialog and high on long continuous takes, often just following someone around. I can't say if he's going to continue with this style, but he's definitely mastered the approach of saying much by saying little.

Unsurprisingly, the style lends itself to bleak subject matter. In this case, the "last days" or a drugged out, incoherent rock star, highly inspired by - but not intended to be a portrayal of - the death of Kurt Cobain. Our lead is played by Michael Pitt (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Murder By Numbers, The Dreamers), who is almost unrecognizable here - granted his hair is in his scruffy face for most of his movie, but it's an attitude as well. Pitt stumbles about, caught up much of the time in mundane activities like making macaroni and cheese, while reaching for his own connection to the world.

The run-down mansion he lives in remains attractive enough for some not-quite-as-incoherent characters to hang around. They live there more out of their benefactor's negligence than at his actual behest. Their paths cross in halting, unsatisfying encounters leading nowhere, very much a reflection of all their lives.

Two scenes are truly remarkable for their inventiveness, both involving our rock star's music. In one, we watch through a window as Pitt picks up instrument after instrument and improvises - only each instrument continues playing after he moves on and the scene becomes a kind of one-man experimental band/music video kind of thing. Another scene has Pitt perform a song, just him on acoustic guitar. The song builds and changes feeling numerous times. We are left with the unmistakable message the world would never know what music this character was capable of.

I find Last Days a shade less interesting than Van Sant's previous piece, Elephant. Last Days is bleaker, and possibly better at attaining a particular mood, but the minor concessions to plot didn't do much for me. Neither movie is going to find a warm spot in the heart of the impatient, but for those who can embrace the style, there are some definite rewards herein.

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