We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Unlike rock-doc classics such as Don’t Look Back and Gimme Shelter, which catch Dylan and the Stones at their respective peaks, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster captures a band on the downturn of its career arc. But what this film lacks in magical musical moments it more than makes up for in Sturm und Drang (plus a little schadenfreude). Originally intended to promote 2003’s St. Anger LP, Monster opens in early 2001 with the members of the titular thrash legend dispirited and barely functioning after bassist Jason Newsted’s departure. Metallica’s management company retains $40,000-a-month performance-enhancement coach Phil Towle to counsel the band, but vocalist-guitarist—and muscle-car enthusiast—James Hetfield soon disappears into rehab, indefinitely derailing studio efforts and leaving drummer—and modern-art collector—Lars Ulrich feeling “disrespected.” Though Brother’s Keeper and Paradise Lost vets Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky milk Hetfield’s absence for maximum suspense, anyone who bought St. Anger or saw last summer’s stadium tour already knows that the Metallica frontman returned to the fold. Berlinger and Sinofsky are, however, fairly successful at winning the trust of their subjects, and the most compelling aspect of Monster is the unfettered access enjoyed by its creators. As one might expect, this yields some unflattering moments: Hetfield informs the band that his postrehab work schedule will extend only from noon to 4 p.m.—and then pitches a fit when the band continues recording without him. Ulrich, in a scene that does nothing for his post-Napster-fracas cred, ostentatiously sips champagne at Christie’s after selling a Basquiat for $5.5 million. And lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, who’s responsible for a lion’s share of Monster’s Spi¬nal Tap–worthy guffaws, loses his hippielike cool when Ulrich proposes a solo-free—and thus more nü-metal-friendly—St. Anger. Yet all of these embarrassments fade when, late in the film, the group runs through a flawless version of golden oldie “Battery” with then-applicant, now-new bass player Robert Trujillo. It’s a rare moment of musical exhilaration in a film that is largely extramusical. But, hey, times they are a-changed, and if Metallica is now more business than band, Monster is no less enjoyable for being more about the money that gets made off the stage than the magic that takes place on it.—Brent Burton