ONCE WERE BROTHERS Review — Robbie Robertson and The Band in an Electrifying and Edifying Music Documentary

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Once Were Brothers review — the story of a rock group, not too different from many stories of rock groups, but a fascinating and at times heart-wrenching tale.

Once Were BrothersThe Band, led by Robbie Robertson, lasted less than a decade, but the group’s influence is undeniably eternal. They backed Bob Dylan when he went electric, inspired the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, and Van Morrison to step up their game, and were inducted into the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Even if you’re not very familiar with them, you’ve surely heard their FM oldies station staples “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

There have been a few documentaries on The Band before, the first and most notable being the 1976 concert film directed by Martin Scorsese, The Last Waltz, featuring a stunning all-star lineup of guests including Dylan and Clapton, and everyone else from Joni Mitchell to Neil Diamond! This collaboration between Robertson and Scorsese led to a lifelong alliance that continues up to now with not only The Irishman score but also this movie, which is produced by the famous filmmaker (and equally prominent cohorts, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer).

Directed by an up and comer so young that The Band would be more to the liking of his grandparent’s generation, Daniel Roher does a fabulous job of helping Robertson tell his amazing and heartfelt story through film. Drawing heavily on the musician’s 2016 autobiography Testimony, Once Were Brothers delves deeply into the roots of The Band and what made Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, and Robertson feel like brothers.

Before seeing Once Were Brothers, I knew The Band backed Bob Dylan during his controversial coming-out electric tour of the U.S. and U.K. in 1966, and I was aware of a couple of their bigger hits after striking out on their own. But I didn’t know that Robertson started out as a teen touring Canada with a wild, raucous rockabilly band, and I didn’t know how their career evolved from coast to coast and eventually imploded (or “went up in flames” as Robertson says both in words and in a new song penned for this occasion).

Loaded with rare home movies, wonderful vintage photos, poignant and funny stories, not to mention the actual hits of The Band, Once Were Brothers is yet another stellar music documentary in a year full of really great ones. It’s definitely one to add to your list of must-sees.

Rated R
1 hour 42 minutes

Does this review of Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band make you want to see it? Get movie times and tickets at Fandango.com.

Rated R

1 Hour 42 Minutes

Once Were Brothers review — the story of a rock group, not too different from many stories of rock groups, but a fascinating and at times heart-wrenching tale.

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Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson is an accomplished writer / director / producer / film critic and the author the bestseller So L.A. - A Hollywood Memoir. Find her on StaciLayneWilson.com

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