What started out as promotional piece detailing the recording of their next album ended up becoming not only a fearless portrait of one of the biggest bands ever in the world of rock, but also a poignant look at how a family deals with addiction and the rippling effects that can have on everyone involved.
The film opens in 2003 as journalists arrive to listen to tracks from St. Anger, the band’s first studio album in five years. The band had gone through a number of upheavals recently.
They sued Napster and its users who illegally shared Metallica’s music, alienating a number of fans. In January 2001, Jason Newsted quit the band after 14 years because he was told he couldn’t have outside projects and was annoyed that the group needed therapy and couldn’t work things out for themselves.
During the credits, there is a cool montage of the band over the years playing “Seek and Destroy.” Then we cut to the guys in therapy with performance enhancement coach Phil Towle, who has worked with other rock stars, professional athletes and CEOs.
They begin to work on their next album, but the music was created very differently. Previously, Lars and James would bring in the music and tell the others how to play.
This time they jammed together including producer Bob Rock on bass and built the songs, and while the lyrics used to be James’ domain, he opened up the duties to everyone.
James becomes overwhelmed and without warnings goes into rehab for “alcoholism and other addictions”. Lars and Kirk are worried that James won’t return.
They continue their work in therapy, including an emotionally brutal scene between Lars and former lead guitar player Dave Mustaine, who was kicked out in 1983 before the band began recording albums.
He is credited with contributing lead guitar parts on songs from the first two albums and claims to have written parts for some others, which has never been verified by the band. It was hard to watch the pain Dave has felt over the years. Even though the band he formed after his dismissal, Megadeath, was successful, he always felt like he was in the shadow of Metallica, derided by fans and sad about the friends he lost.
James returns to the fold. The film has been around recording events for 14 months and it’s been almost a year since James left rehab. The future of the project has to be discussed. It is almost cancelled, but James feels better after seeing some footage. The band struggles to work on new music because James has restrictions. He can only work from twelve to four. He expects everyone else to follow suit. Lars feels restricted.
Phil is a strong yet needed presence, but he gets too involved with the band’s work, even offering song lyrics at one point. Lars lashes out at Phil a lot, but his anger stems in part from the fact that they need Phil. They had trouble letting him go because he helped with their problems. He didn’t want to let go, but the band decided they needed to work on their own. He still works with them as a group and individually from time to time.
They finally complete a new album of material, and hire a new bass player, eventually picking Robert Trujillo formerly of Suicidal Tendencies and Ozzy’s current band. They are honored at the MTV Icon show and go out on tour.
I am a fan of the band, but believe I would have enjoyed the film a great deal anyway because the focus isn’t on the music, but the relationships and personal struggles. The film provides an inside look at a band in crisis and a very intimate view of its members. You witness how close they came to imploding and the love and strength they have as a unit that kept them together.
The only negative for me was the Jason issue was never fully resolved. I would have liked more, especially when I discovered in the extras that Jason was trying to get back into the band. It will be interesting to see if the band treats Trujillo better. They are off to a good start.
The band does a commentary track before a gig in Chicago. Robert doesn’t say much, which is expected since he doesn’t appear until late in the story. They still seem upset about Jason leaving from their comments. They point out continuity errors in the timeline, but don’t add much insight.
The filmmaker commentary is much more informative. They made Brother’s Keeper and Paradise Lost, the latter of which began their relationship with Metallica when they needed music for that film. They based the timeline structure of the film on Gimme Shelter since it was known that Metallica didn’t break up.
Jason was gracious whenever they wanted to speak to him, which was very cool of him, but may have been motivated by his desire to get back involved with the band. They struggled while waiting for James to return, as did the band, turning down work. Since there was so much footage and with the first season of The Osbornes being all the rage at the time, Elecktra Records wanted a reality show. Metallica paid the $2 million spent to buy the rights to the material.
Considering they had over 1600 hours of footage, it’s no surprise they have over 50 additional scenes, some with filmmaker commentary. Some is very interesting like Metallica playing during a Raiders game tailgate; others could have left off like when the guys have trouble signing on to for a web chat. There is also footage of the band doing press for the film at Sundance and other film festivals.