“Soaked in Bleach” gathers together the pile of anecdotal and harder evidence that has long made some fans (or “fanatics,” as they’re once termed here) suspect that Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s 1994 death was no suicide, but a murder plot cooked up by spouse Courtney Love. The inclination to dismiss this as fanciful conspiracy theorizing is here countered by the testimonies of various experts, certain that the Seattle police really bungled their investigation, and by the recollections (as well as audio tapes) of the private eye whom Love herself hired when it appeared that Cobain had just gone missing. Where the artful, exhaustive, family-authorized docu “Montage of Heck” celebrates its subject’s entire life (and music), this procedural mix of talking heads and dramatizations will have a more limited appeal, and is most likely to reach its audience via home formats. It opened at the Arena Cinema Hollywood on June 12.
When Cobain went AWOL from a Los Angeles rehab center, Love hired former L.A. County Sheriff’s Detective turned private investigator Tom Grant to track his whereabouts. But her own contradictory statements and constantly shifting agenda struck him as so suspicious he immediately began recording all their conversations, heard here both in original form and as dialogue between actors. (Veteran character actor Daniel Roebuck plays Grant, while Sarah Scott delivers a full-on rocker-gorgon version of Love.) Eventually Grant went up to Seattle, but the intel Love and various associates gave him produced more inconsistencies — yet no Cobain, who in fact was already lying dead in a sort of attic above the garage that Grant hadn’t been told about.
He’d evidently shot himself to death after injecting himself with three times the lethal dosage of heroin. Many later wondered whether that was even possible (wouldn’t he have instantly passed out from the drug?), but police pronounced it a suicide with questionable haste, allowing various evidence to be destroyed or unexamined. (Inexplicably, photos of the death scene weren’t developed for 20 years.) Strangely, Love retained Grant to figure out Cobain’s activities during the missing days — even after he began pointing out the myriad gaps and conflicts in her own statements. But the police weren’t interested in his theories, and the media had already pronounced Cobain a tragic case of self-destruction.
Homicide, forensic and other experts are tapped to raise their own doubts about the “official version” of Cobain’s demise, including the question of whether his alleged suicide note was forged. Many think the case should be reopened, though the Seattle police so far have not shared that opinion. The hypothetical is that Love somehow arranged Cobain’s murder to look like a suicide, because the couple were rumored to be on the brink of divorce and their prenup agreement would have left her with little of his fortune. Several of Cobain’s intimates do insist that despite his drug and health problems, he wasn’t suicidal — though Love repeatedly called him so publicly well before his death.
This heavy buildup of investigative intel may be TMI for those not already obsessed with all things Cobain. The dramatic sequences have a straightforward telepic-mystery feel, though undeniably enliven by Scott’s blowsy impersonation of the worst detective’s client imaginable. (Tyler Bryan appears fairly briefly toward the end in a speculative re-enactment of Cobain’s last days.) There are relatively fleeting uses of Nirvana photos, performance and interview clips. Since the music rights obviously wouldn’t be forthcoming for a project of this nature, Peter G. Adams contributes an original score that’s more or less grunge-y.
Producer turned first-time feature helmer Benjamin Statler’s assembly is pro if uninspired, with the exception of a short animation sequence to illustrate the credulity-stretching logistics of how Cobain’s corpse was found gripping the shotgun that purportedly killed him. One rationale mentioned here for reopening the case is that if Cobain did not indeed commit suicide, that makes all the more needless the copycat deaths of at least 68 troubled youths around the world, who specifically referenced their hero’s self-offing in their own suicide notes.