Over 40 years after The Last Waltz, Robbie Robertson seemingly gets the last word on The Band’s history and eventual unraveling in Once Were Brothers. The lead guitarist and primary songwriter’s perspective so thoroughly dominates Daniel Roher’s film that it earns its subtitle Robbie Robertson and The Band. And in case there’s any doubt regarding the documentary’s leanings, the post-film credits double down that it’s “inspired by” Robertson’s critically acclaimed 2016 memoir, Testimony.
Whether you’re on Team Levon Helm (drummer/vocalist) — a camp that often vilifies Robertson due to a longtime feud between the two — or Team Robertson, or somewhere in between, all music fans are bound to enjoy another rock doc on The Band ushered to the screen by Martin Scorsese (this time in executive producer mode).
Interviews with musical authorities such as Eric Clapton and Van Morrison lend credibility to Robertson’s claims and the work overall, as do other trustworthy names on the production team, including Ron Howard. Nevertheless, consequential voices and perspectives are omitted — e.g., anyone else who was in The Band — and some questions remain unanswered even after this second cinematic opportunity to get to the “truth” out there about the celebrated ensemble.
Despite the film’s somewhat uncomfortable settle-the-score vibe, Once Were Brothers offers value for fans of The Band and novices alike. The documentary fills in many biographical gaps left by the live concert format of The Last Waltz, albeit from a narrow perspective mostly of Robertson, his family and his friends. His viewpoint is still an important take on one of the best groups in American rock ’n’ roll, and his blunt assertions regarding substance abuse — which he claims was the cause of The Band’s demise — present a message that modern musicians would be wise to heed.
Starts Feb. 28 at the Fine Arts Theatre