Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster

on July 09, 2004 by Christine James
You know the "Queer Eye" phenomenon has gone too far when Metallica starts having meaningful discussions about their feelings. The seminal heavy metal band, formed in 1981 by lead singer/guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, was on the verge of breaking up a few years ago, having reached an all-time low in their interpersonal relationships in 2001 (the resolutely stoic Hetfield is surprised to learn they even have interpersonal relationships). In a last-ditch effort to save the group, they go along with a recommendation to regularly meet with Phil Towle, a therapist specializing in team dynamics. Dynamic is the last word one would use to describe Towle, a sad-sack sort whose wardrobe evokes nothing more than a "Cosby Show" fire sale. For a jaw-dropping $40,000 a month, Towle seems to annoy the group more than anything else, at one hilarious moment even presuming to suggest song lyrics--yet they keep him on for two years (perhaps simply out of a morbid curiosity to see what horrible sweater he'd wear next).

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

Tags: Featuring James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett, Directed and produced by Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, IFC, Documentary

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