In fairness, something about Towle's method, or at least the forum he created for communicating and venting, had a positive effect, though as with most things, the situation got worse before it got better. A tour had to be put on hold when a personal epiphany compelled Hetfield to check himself into extended rehab. Meanwhile, Ulrich and guitarist Kirk Hammett, left at loose ends, worked on their own issues (including the trauma of backlash when the band boldly stood up to Napster) and even those of former band members: Ulrich reunites on-camera with original guitarist Dave Mustaine, who was kicked out early on; even though he went on to form the very successful Megadeath, he reveals he still feels like a failure and hasn't gotten over his hurt feelings. And former bassist Jason Newsted's new project is surveyed by Metallica with what they admit is resentment and ill will. Confessions like these, and Hammett's sensitive-zen persona, may unsettle fans who are all about the headbanging, though anyone who has listened to the lyrics of songs like "One," "Unforgiven" and "Nothing Else Matters" would have to know that behind the leather and pyrotechnics are contemplative souls.
Keeping the docu from feeling like a whine-fest is Hetfield, whose sharp-humored, powerful presence is always magnetic. With his craggy good looks, unflinchingly strong persona and proclivity for Morricone music (Metallica's version of "Ecstasy of Gold" is a fan favorite), he's a Sergio Leone anti-hero waiting for his close-up.
A turnaround in the band's fate--with a warmly embraced new bassist, a prestigious MTV Icon special and a platinum-selling album--provides the rousing ending you knew was coming yet can't help but smile at broadly and goofily when it finally happens. When a fan earnestly tells Ulrich that he loves Metallica, it's obvious that, more than fame and fortune, that's what means the world to him. Featuring James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett. Directed and produced by Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky. An IFC release. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 138 min