red lights


Therapy please


Movie review
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: July14, 2005

Produced and Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
featuring James Hetfield Lars Ulrich Kirk Hammett Bob Rock
Phil Towle Jason Newsted Robert Trujillo

Not Rated
141 Minutes

Movie review by David Malsch

I have to make the admission straight away that I am not a fan of Metallica. Never have been and probably never will be. I have always known about the band since their debut album Kill 'Em All in 1983 but never heard them until the following year's album Ride the Lightning. My metal head friends back in high school considered them the second coming but I was too far gone into the world of bands like The Clash. I would listen to this music when we were together but when I went home at night, things would sound very different. I do love their song "Enter Sandman" however, but that's about how far I go with them. In fact, seeing this film is the first and only money I have ever spent towards this band. I illegally downloaded "Enter Sandman" from Napster, which seems appropriate to mention regarding this film

The film begins in 2001 with longtime bass player Jason Newsted quitting the band. Most music fans know that 14 years earlier the original bass player Cliff Burton was killed while on tour in Europe and from there Jason tried to resurrect the rhythm section. With the departure of Newsted, the band finds themselves in turmoil. Newsted never really filled the shoes of Burton because the band never got over the death of him. This is a band that has been together for over 20 years, sold over 90 million albums and have been one of the biggest touring acts in the nineties. In addition to those years of success, the fašade of the band had been falling apart. Notoriously known for years as Alcoholica, living the lives of rock stars had started taking its toll on the band. It's the classic tale of sex, to many drugs and rock 'n' roll.

Most bands would implode by this point but Metallica decide to hire a therapist named Phil Towle to help them salvage whatever is left of the band. Towle helps athletes and musicians who have both huge problems and even bigger egos. His $40,000 a month salary proves that he's been around the block a few times when it comes to mental health.

The band had rented a section of the historic Presidio in San Francisco to record their long awaited album St. Anger. It had been over 5 years since their last album and they decided for the first time ever to go into the recording process completely unprepared. They decided to create on the spot as if they were a garage band (a garage band with millions of dollars in the bank of course). This process from the beginning seemed like a huge mistake and things were beginning to unravel. If Metallica is a family-of-sorts than lead singer James Hetfield is the alcoholic father, drummer Lars Ulrich is the facto mother and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett is the child trying to keep everyone happy and on track. James and Lars after all these years together can't stand each other. The bickering and the fighting between these two as become unbearable. They should have divorced years ago but stayed together possibly for the cash cow they created.

I have another admission for you, I hate Lars Ulrich. I always have, he is like nails on a chalkboard to me. He's an asshole, plain and simple. Seeing him behind the scenes in the film just confirms those emotions. He is overdramatic and as egotistical as they come. I don't blame all this band dysfunction on him but he is unbearable. Hetfield is an alcoholic and he has become a husband and a father and appears ready to move on with life. Hammett, is the quiet one. Beyond is love for surfing, we just don't know much about him, his private life remains a mystery.

Midway through the Presidio recordings Hetfield melts down during rehearsals and disappears into rehab for nearly a year. This puts the band on hold and the thoughts of ending everything loom over everyone's head. But Hetfield eventually returns with a list of changes for the band that include only working four hours day. This enrages Ulrich even more but somehow they make it through it. I believe that you actually start seeing the therapy working by the end of the film, despite situations here and there, Hetfield and Ulrich actually start working together by the end of the movie. In between all the recording and therapy sessions there is a lot regarding the past of the band that includes coming to terms with the death of Cliff Burton and finally hiring a new Bass player named Robert Trujillo. There's also Lars taking on Napster and the people who illegally download music. There's also a terrific scene where ex-guitarist Dave Mustaine shows up to participate in therapy and confronts Ulrich on how he never got over being fired from the band. The raw honesty in those scenes were really powerful.

Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky spent three years with band and recorded over 1600 hours of footage. It was originally supposed to be a 6-part mini-series on VH1. The band ended up buying the rights away from VH1 and released it as a feature film. It premiered at Sundance in 2004 and won best documentary at the Independent Spirit Awards.

It's a truly amazing film that surprised me over and over again. It's a gutsy, honest look at the relationships, the music and the life of the most successful hard rock band ever who made extremely aggressive music and filled it with positive energy instead of the horrors of their personal life. It all made me want to illegally download more Metallica music just to spite Lars.

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