Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004)
Directed by Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky

Though the title of this film sounds like a typical fans-only "making of the album"-type documentary, the story captured is so deeply emotional and beautiful that it actually outclasses Hoop Dreams. Hence, the Metallica t-shirt-wearing fans who saunter into it expecting a fist-pumpin' heavy metal experience will come away rather baited-and-switched, while the audience who would most appreciate it (overeducated art-film snootsters) will probably avoid it entirely, since come now, there's no need to concern oneself with such distasteful subject matter, right, Beauregard (?).

The brilliance of the film, though, is that it legitimizes Metallica in a completely honest way for those who would simply look down their noses, and it pushes the typical metal fan into equally taboo terrain: getting in touch with your feelings. It accomplishes both things so well that Some Kind of Monster emerges as a totally unexpected hybrid: it's simultaneously the best movie about rock music ever made, and the best movie about therapy ever made!

I expected the film to be good, as Brother's Keeper (an earlier and similarly one-of-a-kind documentary by the same filmmakers) is one of my favorite films. And while I'm a Metallica fan and a huge fan of therapy, I was unprepared for across-the-board excellence – certainly I'm surprised to say that this will most likely turn out to be the best film I see this year.

The film traces about three years in the latter-day life of the biggest metal band ever, as they struggle to record a new album and deal with the fallout of 25 years' leper messiah-hood. No longer hard-partying young longhairs, these guys now have families, lives to live, demons to beat, and music is no longer the only way to do it. Once the most thrilling and fresh metal band around, Metallica now finds themselves elders in a young man's game, still angry, but not all that hungry.

The band is prodded into entering group therapy with a "performance coach," and it is this aspect of the film that makes it something very unexpected. A documentary about Metallica would be understandable. A documentary about therapy would be understandable. A documentary about Metallica in therapy, though? WTF?

The band deserves huge props for allowing such an intimate look behind the curtain to reach its – and even a wider – audience. Some Kind of Monster is a work of almost total image-redefinition, tearing down the usual rock-god posturing and empty promotional clichés in favor of truly revealing who these guys are as people. Their beauty, their pain … it's about the riskiest thing they could possibly do, stripping away the "Metal Up Your Ass!" attiude and allowing themselves to cry.

It's a risk that pays off, as there is just no way you can share space with someone truly feeling and speaking their most heartfelt truths, and not come away with a greater respect for them. Through the course of the film, you see a band work through tension and conflict big and small, so when they finally finish their album and launch a new tour, the emotional weight of it all is astonishing. I never thought I'd be choking back tears watching Metallica take the stage in a huge arena, but after watching their painful journey to get there, I had more happiness for them than I did even for those kids from Spellbound.

The directors' ability to gain access to such personal and potentially embarrassing territory, and also to build enough trust with the band that they'd see releasing the film as a natural extension of their attempt to get real with themselves, is itself amazing, but almost moreso is their ability to convey everything that is great about Metallica in a few brilliantly selected bits of old footage … in one brief montage, James Hetfield's entire dark journey is depicted with a few quick strokes that get the point across more than an hour-long, dramatically overwrought "Behind the Music" could ever do. We see a guy trapped in his hulking frontman stance, downing beers in desperation, like a bear caught in … um … a trap … a trap that has easily accessible beers. (?) The fans already know the history, and the film-buffs don't need to know it, so these impressionistic sequences pack a lot of emotion into a few frames, without losing the story at hand. So when we see a closed-off Hetfield passive-aggressively thwarting the film early on, we understand where he's at … and when we see a strong and more open Hetfield later, using newfound tools to express his feelings constructively, it's a revelation.

Another good trick is the use of vacuous and snarky MTV News clips about the band to show how limited a view of the real situation the outside world was getting – you see the band struggle with its interpersonal dysfunction, Hetfield's very real rehab experience (which leaves him fragile and raw, not at all the way rock-star rehab is typically portrayed), and the ongoing frustration of trying to pull a solid album out of it all, and suddenly MTV's bullshit seems even more worthless, if that's at all possible.

If Hetfield is the star of the show, Lars Ulrich is the conflicted foil, forced to give up a style of control he'd used thanklessly for years to keep the band together when Hetfield was fucked up, in favor of a more heartfelt and honest style – and he has a lot of trouble letting go. The therapist, too, isn't depicted in black-and-white, as his own ambiguous need for the band starts becoming more apparent.

Perhaps the film's most heartwrenching scene features Megadeth founder Dave Mustaine, who was kicked out of Metallica before they took off, getting a chance to express directly to Lars (James not being present) how painful his life has been as the result of getting bounced from the band – he looks back on his life, which with Megadeth was hardly any kind of failure, and obsesses over what might have been, and the 25-year-old wound still feels fresh. It's a deeply affecting scene, and one that hopefully will give Mustaine a lot more respect among metalheads who have slagged him off all these years.

This is a rare film, building a bridge between two worlds that heretofore would have nothing to do with each other: headbanging and healing. Perhaps it will do for getting people into therapy what Fahrenheit 9/11 did for getting people registered to vote. I only wish they'd chosen the title from the last line of dialogue spoken by James Hetfield to a packed arena at the end of an inspired show … something he'd probably said thousands of times, but this time you could tell it was coming from the heart: "Metallica Loves You!"

Review by La Fée