A review of “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ****

Rating: Not Rated, but could be PG-13 for language and adult situations

Run Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

 

 

One of the most intriguing films of the year features classic rockers getting in touch with their inner heavy metalists. 

Metal band Metallica, on the cutting edge of the scene for twenty years with an astounding 90 million albums sold, is crashing and burning in true rock-and-roll style. Bassist Jason Newsted has split the band, anxious to pursue his work with pet underground project Echo Brain. Sprinkling salt on the wounds is Metallica frontman James Hetfield, who’s coming face to face with his alcoholism and exorcising his demons from the precipice of his own personal hell.

On the brink of collapse, the band-members hire performance enhancement coach Phil Towle to cope with this skittish transitional period. All this as the band enters the studio to record their first record in seven years (St. Anger), an album that should put the middle-aged icons back on track with fans who abandoned them when they took a hard line against Napster.

The players are a mixed bag of luminaries – outspoken leader and drummer Lars Ulrich (“Don’t talk it, walk it”), sensitive New Age guitarist Kirk Hammett, and tortured soul Hetfield, one of the band’s original founders.

The new album is the least of their worries.  Concealed jealousies and indignation, years of groupie lifestyle and substance abuse, and the omnipresent spin doctor (“tension produces results”) threaten to destroy one of rock’s pre-eminent head-banging legends. 

At a spendy $40,000 a month to be at Metallica’s beck and call, Phil’s ego expands along with the band’s burgeoning hornet’s nest of issues.  As the boys hurl precious psycho-babble at Phil and at each other (“It’s not about what he says, it’s about how I feel”), the group burrows under its psychological warts and drifts further away from its stalled project, a creative process now some seven hundred days into production.

The goal is to keep an aggressive edge to the music without the negative energy. And keep the band together. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky trail the boys for two and a half years for a by-the-numbers, behind-the-music shoot, getting a lot more than they bargained for and landing a gold mine of a documentary. 

Humorous, painful, and rawly satisfying, Metallica is a voyeuristic rock-and-roll fantasy.