METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER ****
FEATURING: Members of the band Metallica
DIRECTOR: Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
RUNNING TIME: 139 minutes
RATING: Unrated but some rough language
THE LOWDOWN: A riveting rock documentary tracing the near-dissolution and eventual rebirth of the world's most popular heavy metal band.
When directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky signed on to create a documentary of the making of Metallica's first studio album following the departure of bassist Jason Newsted, they had no idea what they were getting into.
But it's to our benefit that the pair bit off a bit more than they expected to chew. "Some Kind of Monster" is one of the more compelling and engaging rock documentaries this side of the brilliant '60s films "Don't Look Back" and "Gimme Shelter," both of which managed to transcend their subject matter -- rock 'n' roll -- in service of the telling of broader, more significant truths.
Metallica, the most popular band in the history of heavy metal, was coming apart at the seams as Berlinger and Sinofsky began their rock-doc.
Things get rapidly worse as the band rents space in San Francisco's Presidio, a converted former military base, and begins assembling material for what will eventually become the "St. Anger" album. Drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist Kirk Hammett seem to be relatively well-adjusted, having found suitable surrogate activity for the alcohol-soaked excess of their early years. That leaves only vocalist-guitarist James Hetfield, the Mount Rushmore of metal, a seemingly unflinching man whose toughness has long been a part of the Metallica uber-metal charm.
Hetfield seems wholly underwhelmed with the band's progress, and as the cameras watch, he disappears into himself.
Hetfield checks himself into rehab and doesn't come back for a year, leaving Metallica and therapist Phil Towle to ponder the band's apparent demise. It's painful to watch, as the band sorts through its feelings and begins unearthing emotions long wrapped in the gauze of alcohol and drug abuse.
Things boil over again after Hetfield returns, but the band, with the help of Towle, begins to work through its problems, concentrating on its collective art as a means of reviving its friendships. Eventually, new bassist Robert Trujillo comes aboard, and the band is almost instantly energized; suddenly, it seems as if everything can be overcome. There are still bumps in the road, but "Monster" ultimately ends on a happy note, with the epic "St. Anger" ready for release.
"Monster" is rock documentary work at its finest, precisely because there are universal questions at its core. How does one continue dedicating himself to an inherently angry and aggressive art as a way of life, while simultaneously attempting to grow more compassionate and empathetic as a human being? Can metal -- a testosterone-fueled form -- grow with a young man as he becomes an adult?
Most importantly, can friendships and artistic/business partnerships endure over decades? It's to Metallica's credit that the band members cared enough about each other to attempt to answer these questions. It's to the directors' credit that they have sculpted this journey into an entirely engaging and often moving film.