By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Aug 19, 2005 at 5:01 AM

{image1} Filmmaker Gus Van Sant's "Last Days" bids an introspective farewell to Blake (Michael Pitt), a talented, but tortured, musician succumbing to his inner turmoil at the height of his rock and roll fame.

Blake isn't Kurt Cobain, per se. He just looks, talks, acts, dresses, sings and plays guitar like him in this film inspired by the final hours of the Nirvana frontman.

Living in some sort of beautiful, if abandoned, stone mansion in the desolation of a Seattle forest, it seems as if Blake has accepted his tragic fate, and just wants to be alone as he takes one last look at the world around him. The film opens with Blake wandering through the woods, mumbling to himself. At first glance, he appears to be lost, but when he stops for a leisurely swim in the river and starts signing loudly to the trees around him, it's clear that he is losing himself on purpose, and enjoying it.

Though details of his life are few and far between, you get the impression that everyone is looking for him, including friends, a private detective and people from his record label concerned about his upcoming tour. Seemingly unconcerned, Blake spends his time ducking in and out of the house and trudging through the woods in an attempt to escape others, and eventually, himself.

We catch brief dialogue and interaction with other characters, including Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, who makes an appearance only long enough to call Blake a rock and roll cliche. Though the contrasting presence of the other characters help to paint him as a troubled soul, Blake shines brightest in their absence as he bashes away at his acoustic guitar, and fills the mansion with his raw, angst-ridden lyrics.

With a disclaimer stating that the characters and story are fictional, Van Sant has given himself complete freedom to tell the story as he likes. He's combined equal parts of the real and the surreal, and has allowed the emotion of the acting, much of which is improvisational, tell the tale in vague, but introspective, obscurity--a choice that perhaps gives the film the depth he might not have achieved had he taken the more traditional documentary approach.

Admittedly, Van Sant tests the patience of his audience with this one, utilizing the same elliptical storytelling of his previous works "Gerry" and "Elephant." This time he has eliminated even more extraneous dialogue, opting to tell the story by layering his characters' actions and subtleties with various textured sounds, a cinematic effect that proves to be quite touching and poetic.

"Last Days" works beautifully as an intimate window into the mind of an artist and graciously avoids the type of Hollywood hype that inevitably surrounds the demise of a rock icon. It doesn't pose, nor does it attempt to answer, the question of whether Cobain was a hero or just another rock and roll cliche. It lets you decide.

"Last Days" opens Friday, Aug. 19 at Landmark's Downer Theater.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”