Greetings again from the darkness. This biopic will probably be a ‘can’t miss’ for fans of Guns ‘n Roses and Velvet Revolver, while registering not so much as a blip for the rest of the universe. From a filmmaking perspective, director Christopher Duddy takes a different approach, as the core of the film has subject Duff McKagan onstage (at Seattle’s Moore Theatre) reciting passages directly from his own autobiography … while being backed by a soft playing band in front of a live audience.
The film begins with an Upton Sinclair quote as if that will somehow add literary authenticity to the memoirs of a rock star and recovering addict. It’s not surprising that the most interesting parts of McKagan’s life story are the bits and pieces of his numerous band projects … beginning when he was 15 years old and drawn to the Punk Rock world at Seattle’s The Gorilla Room in 1979. After having played with dozens of bands, a meeting with guitarist Slash changed his life. Soon, Guns ‘n Roses was opening for Motley Crue (Nikki Sixx is interviewed) and not long after they were headlining their own stadium shows and selling millions of records.
What doesn’t really work is the rehash of McKagan’s abuse of vodka that led to the life-threatening pancreatitis. We’ve heard the story (or those like it) so many times before … especially from well worn rockers looking to make another buck. Of course it’s startling to see the names flash across the screen – those he knew and played with who weren’t able to come out of their addiction and abuse.
The film doesn’t spend much time on Guns ‘n Roses or his time with Velvet Revolver, though we get the gist of each. It’s McKagan’s insistence on telling us how close to death he was, and how lucky he is now, that really slows down the pace … listening to his confessions comes across a bit like a musical AA meeting. McKagan’s business school background is impressive and helps set him apart from many of the other train wrecks in his industry, but what’s missing is any indication that he is an extraordinary musical talent … it leaves us feeling he is just a lucky guy who was in the right place at the right time, then messed it up with addiction, managed to clean up and get a real life, and then nearly messed it all up again. While we may be happy for his success and the fact that he has survived, there’s not much here to set his story apart from many others … and certainly nothing that leaves us in awe of his talent.