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Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

Growing up is hard to do

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich stressed that Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is "not a film about Metallica - it's a film about relationships." That leaves me wonder then why A) the band's name needs to be in the title and B) what makes this project special in the first place? Put another away, would you care about a movie called Survivor: Some Kind of Eye of the Tiger"? You might if you were a really big Survivor fan and wished it were still 1982. But rock documentaries succeed when you don't have to be part of the band's army of fans to play along.

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster thinks it's doing that by positioning itself as an archetypal study of a Band-At-The-Crossroads. All of the drama you've heard of before, from co-founders jousting for power to worries over whether the band can still Rock after they've had kids and bought art collections. We're supposed to believe this is every band's story. The refusal to make it Metallica's is exactly what's wrong.

We catch up with the band right after they've begun sessions for their 8th studio album. They haven't recorded in years and there's talk afoot that that the unstoppable Metallica ship has lost its sail. Co-founders Ulrich and James Hetfield are barely speaking to each other and can't get through a session without guitarist Kirk Hammett pleading with them to pick up instruments instead of broadswords. After one virulent yet stupid fight, Hetfield storms out and later announces that alcohol has gotten the best of him. He stays in rehab for a long, silent year.

It's here where Monster works best. With Metallica fractured, Hammett and Ulrich try to understand how the three have made music together since they were teenagers and still barely know each other as people. Now they've got obligations beyond the band that has until then dominated their whole adult lives. If Hetfield never came back or decided he'd rather be a stay-at-home-dad, what then?

Important questions, as anyone who has been in a long-term creative relationship will know. Eventually, the reasons for continuing the relationship are not the same reasons that got you into it in the first place. Knowing that, is it still fulfilling? Is it even fun anymore?

Every band that outlives its initial rush of fame will wind up here and filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky want Metallica's story to be a lesson in survival for all of them. There's little concert footage and no rock historians pontificating on the band's "significance". Hired originally to shoot a promotional video, Berlinger and Sinofsky found themselves in the center of a storm and recorded it as it happened. They burrow so deep that the details fall away until its just three musicians realizing it's not as easy as it once was.

But is it that basic? How Metallica has flourished despite sea changes in popular music is a movie unto itself. But the filmmakers are too embedded to make that movie. And despite the bummer crop of band documentaries released lately as career retrospective (Gigantic), conceptual art project (Meeting People is Easy) or artfully-disguised love letter (I am Trying to Break Your Heart), Berlinger and Sinofsky simply film themselves filming three guys fighting. That Metallica is one of the biggest bands of the last two decades is, by tacit admission, beside the point.

But who wants to see that? Paradoxically, a film that makes the guys in Metallica look like ordinary people is only interesting to rabid fans that can't get enough of them. Those who come in less than sold won't get what all the fuss is about. And ignoring that this troubled family is also a bigass rock n' roll band makes their story little more than an Al-Anon meeting with guitar solos.

Berlinger and Sinofsky are talented filmmakers (Brothers Keeper, Paradise Lost), skilled at noticing a story before it unfolds completely and showing up just as it does. This time though, they're in too deep. We actually see them onscreen negotiating with the band whether they should continue the project. It's hard to see your subject as less than fascinating when you consider yourself part of it.

Bottom Line: If you love Metallica, you'll probably love Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. If you're merely curious about Metallica, you'll think this film loves them a little too much.

Stars: 3 out of 5