Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004) / Documentary

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would probably be R for strong language
Running Time: 141 min.

Cast: Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Bob Rock, Phil Towle, Cliff Burnstein, Jason Newsted, Robert Trujillo, Dave Mustaine
Director: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky


Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is kind of a monster of its own, starting out as promotional footage for the bandís record label, later changing into a proposed reality series to be aired on music network VH1, and finally the band decided it was best to wean down over 1600 hours of footage into a feature length documentary instead.  Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, Where Itís At: The Rolling Stone State of the Union) do a good job keeping us up to date with the current state of the band, which for several years prior to filming had been in disarray, and offering lots of background tidbits as to the groups successes, failures, and the whereabouts of former members. 

The most interesting aspect of the film comes from the open sessions the band has with their $40,000 a month therapist, Phil Towle.  They bare their souls in ways that are not only surprising among old band mates, but also were willing to expose themselves personally to the public at large.  For a band with such a macho, bad-boy image, itís refreshing to see what goes on in the personal lives of even the most hardcore of rockers, although we are obviously seeing three men who have given up a great deal of their hedonistic ways to concentrate on their family lives. 

Even with the help of Towle, the band still goes through ups and downs, both creatively and emotionally.  Thereís even a prolonged period of time when they questioned whether they would ever get back together at all, once front man James Hetfield goes on a hiatus to check into rehab.  Even upon his return, his limited abilities to contribute prove trying for the other members, and heated arguments ensue. 

I must admit, Iím not really a fan of Metallica or their hardcore metal style, but that didnít stop my enjoyment of this documentary, although I will concede that fans of the band will probably like the film far more than those who see the music as cacophonic.  It has its moments of amusement, some genuine and some you discover on your own.  For instance, the film is absorbing when it covers how the band goes through its creative process, striking a certain riff that the other band members try to add to.  Only after the music is laid down do they try to add lyrics to the music theyíve created (I had always though creating non-instrumental music started with the lyrics), and even then it is mostly improvised, with all of the members working separately, and then forming a song around their spontaneous ramblings. 

Even more amusing, although it is probably unintentional, is the bandís dealing with Towle and their often-rambling monologues in which they babble on about their feelings, only for Towle to respond back in kind -- and then they still squabble and fight and piss each other off anyway.  The Towle scenes are priceless, such as seeing him trying to give the band some lyrics of his own, or in the subtle ways he tries to guide the band (at one point he even presumes to speak for deceased bassist Cliff Burton).  Perhaps itís bad of me to laugh, but I still found it amusing to see Towle desperately trying to cajole the band into retaining his high-priced services, even claiming that his relocation plans have nothing to do with his assumption that he would be their therapist indefinitely. 

The film isnít without its share of lulls, and at almost 2 Ĺ hours, it probably could have easily been trimmed down about a half hour without losing anything vital.  Still, it did keep my attention throughout, and at times was quite riveting; offering much food for thought as to how difficult it is to create an album, deal with record company demands, outside pressure, and internal struggles for expression. 

I came into this film without much regard for Metallica or their music and came out of it respecting the band and the music they perform, even if I will never actually be someone who buys their record.  Behind every album, and every artist, a story is there to be told -- Some Kind of Monster is the story of Metallica at a time of their lives where everything hangs by a thin thread, and weíre given a fly on the wallís perspective in seeing how they all pulled through to make it happen.  That they release such a warts-and-all documentary, including their most unflattering and embarrassing moments, shows these guys have more guts than most, even if they arenít the outrageous bad-asses they appear to be from the outside.

©2005 Vince Leo