If I was to divide moviegoers into two categories, I'd say that there are those who would like to see a movie about one of the hardest, kickin'est, fastest heavy metal bands of all time, and then there are those who would like to see a movie wherein four sensitive men explore their feelings in a supportive environment under the compassionate care of a certified, sweater-wearing, mental-health professional.
Thus, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is either the movie for everyone, or the movie for no one. Actually, it's probably a movie for hardcore Metallica fans, but I think they'll be a little weirded out by it.
A lot of the weirdness comes from lead singer James Hetfield. He has a reputation for excessive drinking, sexual licentiousness and extreme violence. He claims to have beaten up drummer Lars Ulrich many times. He's been known to wake up in a pool of his own--and several attractive young women's--vomit. And yet, during the course of this film, Hetfield actually utters the line: "I spoke up because I was fearful."
He also goes to rehab, and refers to the band as his "second family," and tells them all that he "loves" them. I imagine this is the kind of thing that would cause a true Metallica fan to hurl massive chunks.
Still, it is sort of cute.
And it's all engendered by Metallica's strange decision to hire a group therapist to see them through the recording of the album St. Anger. Of course, at first, the band members smirk and laugh at the therapist's psych-speak, especially when he presents them with a manifesto about exploring feelings and special love-hugging openness to the wonderfulness of beingness.
But then--and this is the really scary part of the film that makes The Blair Witch Project and The Exorcist and Fahrenheit 9/11 seem like Bambi Meets the Care Bears--Hetfield starts to talk in that same psychobabble. Do we really want to see 6-foot-2-inch tall, manly, muscled, metal gods open up and show us their weak and loving sides?
Well, if we do, Some Kind of Monster serves it up in spades. What it doesn't serve up, though, is much in the way of real conflict. A big part of the enjoyment of reality programming (and Some Kind of Monster is nothing if not an extension of TV reality programming) is seeing people explode under the pressure of being watched. No one tunes into Big Brother to watch Kristy tell Sally that she values her as a friend but has some issues with her willingness to accept emotional risk.
Then again, no one tunes into Big Brother at all. But if we're watching a documentary on Metallica, I think we want to see (a) someone getting hit, (b) someone getting a hummer from a groupie, (c) someone doing, like, half a kilo of coke and washing it down with a gallon of gasoline and licorice rum.
Strangely, none of this happens. In fact, in the ultimate betrayal of rock sensibility, Hetfield actually goes into rehab during the course of the movie and comes out with a new-found concern for his role as a father.
Yes, you get to see James Hetfield smiling, holding his wife's hand and watching his 5-year-old daughter at her ballet class. Ride the lightning, dude! I mean, sure, waking up every morning covered in blood and booze and supermodels is OK, but if you want some really extreme action (I'm talking extreme to the max, of course) you have to get mad-crazy with the whole going-to-your-daughter's-ballet-class thing. That is outrageous, dude! That is some hardcore shit!
Hetfield's transformation isn't the only surprise in Some Kind of Monster. It turns out that Kirk Hammett, long regarded as one of the best guitarists in speed metal, has always been a sensitive guy. He immediately takes to the therapy sessions, and he always looks like he's on the verge of tears. This guy's face is as expressive as a Peanuts cartoon character's. It's like his mouth is a wiggly line just waiting to say "aaarrrghhh!" when he finds that Lucy has, again, hidden his security blanket.
Luckily, drummer Lars Ulrich remains something of a jerk. Sure, he's also a husband and father, and, strangely, he has one of the best collections of late 20th century paintings on the face of the Earth (totally extreme Basquiat, dude! Awesome de Kooning! Freaking ripping Pollock!). Still, he has little tolerance for Hetfield's self-exploration; he actually gets up and screams during the therapy sessions, and, if all those newsgroup posts by Napster fans are to be believed, he's the greatest villain since Hitler.
Nonetheless, he doesn't let that get in the way of sitting through a few feeling-oriented explorations of his own personhood, if that's what it takes to get another album recorded. This is because, after 20 years of rocking, Metallica is now more a business than a band. They can't let personal problems get in the way of that, and if it's bad for business to go supermodel-surfing and good for business to talk about one's fear of intimacy, then they'll do it. It's just that, if they're going to do it in front of cameras and then expect me to watch, I wish they'd have done it while snorting heroin off each other's bruised, bleeding and groupie-covered asses.