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Setting Off the Heavy Metal Detector

MOVIE REVIEW
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2009)

Robb and Lips
Brent J. Craig/Anvil! The Story of Anvil

“Anvil! The Story of Anvil” documents the tragicomic story of Anvil, the band of Canadian heavy metal rockers that showed some promise in the 1980s before lapsing into relative obscurity. In the best tradition of such ventures, however, it’s really about much more. The film is not a musical hagiography, or an apologia for the band and its commercial failings. It is instead a hopeful testament to the power of unrelenting optimism and the contentment that can come from refining the definition of success.

Since the band's formation in 1973, childhood friends Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner have been the Jagger-Richards, McCartney-Lennon combo at the heart of Anvil. The film begins with footage of their appearance at Super Rock '84 in Japan, a festival that also featured bands like Whitesnake. Yet the fame the appearance seemed to predict never materialized. Twenty years later, middle age having set in, Messrs. Kudlow and Reiner are working menial day jobs and living in Ontario. But they continue rocking, chasing dreams of stardom they’re convinced is right around the corner.

Director Sacha Gervasi follows Anvil on a European tour of small clubs and mostly empty concert halls through the recording process of their new album and finally back to Japan. He is not, however, particularly interested in the mechanics of the band’s craft. Instead, his movie studies the friendship at the heart of Anvil, the particular bond formed between Messrs. Kudlow and Reiner that allows them to believe so fully in each other despite so many years of futility. They’re uniquely determined men, passionate, self-aware and full of contradictions.

They’ve granted Mr. Gervasi, a former roadie for the group, access to everything from family gatherings to recording sessions, and the camera keeps rolling during some explosive fights. The filmmaker clearly loves these guys, treating them without the mocking condescension that could be so easily bestowed on middle-aged rockers belting out songs like “Metal on Metal” for little to no money to a few dozen fans somewhere in Europe. At the same time there’s an inherent absurdity to those images, which speaks for itself. The film is a complicated portrait of complicated men, an adeptly assembled character study that shows how limitless fame and fortune might not be the real recipe for happiness.

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