Toronto Film Review: ‘Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band’

Variety | 9/5/2019 | Chris Willman
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Forty-one years after the theatrical release of “The Last Waltz,” Robbie Robertson gets the last word on that era in “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band,” a documentary picked by the Toronto Int’l Film Festival as its opening night gala premiere. It covers Robertson’s tenure in the Band from the group’s early ’60s origins through that final concert in 1976, famously documented by Martin Scorsese (who serves as an executive producer here). Robertson comes not just to celebrate that time but to relitigate it, having been demonized over the years by other Band members and the fans who favor them. To the survivor as well as the raconteur go the spoils, and Robertson is nothing if not both those things.

“Once Were Brothers” is essentially a movie adaptation of Robertson’s 2016 autobiography, “Testimony: A Memoir.” Just as the book ended with the tale of “The Last Waltz” (he’s working on a sequel now), so the film takes its leave there, too, although “Brothers” does include something he was presumably saving for the second memoir: his account of visiting another former Band member, Levon Helm, on his deathbed. It’s not a very juicy story; Helm was in a state of unconsciousness by the time Robertson got to his side in 2012. Mostly it just plants more “what if” questions in the minds of their mutual fans, since Helm had become Robertson’s bête noire before and after his own 1993 memoir, “This Wheel’s on Fire,” which painted the Band’s unofficial leader as an official betrayer and silver-tongued devil. In his interviews in “Once Were Brothers” (emphasis on the “once” and “were”), you sense Robertson treading a little bit lightly, not wanting to further antagonize Team Levon, but recognizing this is his best, if not last, chance to really set the record...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Variety
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