Review: The Dirt (2019)
Mötley Crüe isn’t exactly the most intellectual of bands and thankfully neither is The Dirt, Netflix’s cinematic adaptation of the bands 2001 memoirs. Originally optioned in 2006, the project languished in development hell for over a decade due to creative problems as the band, particularly Nikki Sixx, didn’t want it be a middling music biopic. They were somewhat successful. Yes, the film chronicles the dizzying highs of the bands success and dithering lows of their various vices and addictions in graphic detail with a clearly self critical tone, then fails to completely engage with the material and present it as being of consequence. The result is a fun and reasonably informative biopic that, at least for the first half, maintains a great pace and a good deal of energy but never feels like a fully formed portrait of the band members themselves.
It should be noted that the film does try to shirk the tried-and-true structure of many other music biopics to a degree. Yes, it does start in media res and then flashes back to Sixx’s childhood, and it does end with the band triumphantly taking the stage, but the middle is nicely segmented and keeps itself interesting by switching between different band members perspectives and repeatedly breaking the fourth wall. Each of the band members has their own distinct voice, Nikki Sixx’s being reflective, Tommy Lee’s being juvenile, Vince Neil’s being self aggrandising, and Mick Mars’ just being misanthropic. Of the four Nikki is the character with the most depth and complexity with his story serving as the backbone of the film, partially due to the focus on his perspective and partially due to the strength of Douglas Booth’s performance.
All of the actors do a fine job of replicating the preformative facets of the real life counterparts of their characters, but the standouts are Booth’s turn as Sixx, who really seels the despondent, drugged out side of the character, and Iwan Rheon as Mick Mars. Mars is an odd character, not only in his mannerism but also his relationship with the rest of the band, and Rheon does a fantastic job of making him constantly strained and setting him apart from the rest of the band. His wig does a lot to help in this regard as well, as it looks exactly as terrible as Mick Mars’ actual hair from that period. Those character dynamics are what make the movie, and even during the second half where it starts to lose steam those relationships are still presented with a great deal of layering. Even the brief sequence with Ozzy in which the infamous ant snorting is re-enacted is laced with a great deal of characterisation regarding the band members own excursiveness.
Where the film fails is in it’s presentation of the hedonism, which considering how central it is makes it a glaring issue. Whenever Mötley Crüe parties it’s fun, edited with a lot of energy and a puerile sense of humour that will leave you laughing both at and with the band which is simply enjoyable. What the film fails to do is properly juxtapose all the excessive partying and substance abuse with the problems that the band experiences later. It jumps right from an inventively filmed first person sequence of Tommy’s everyday life which has a bouncy pace, jovial tone, and no consequence to it, to a scene of Nikki shooting Heroin without showing how the first lead to the second. It’s particularly bad in the second half when the film tries to compress decades of the band career into far too little screen-time and it seriously hampers the effectiveness of the material. The Dirt does a good job of illustrating the various band members and replicating the same juvenile appeal of Mötley Crüe, but it’s not as rich of a portrait as it thinks it is and falls prey to simple storytelling too often. All the puerile and ridiculous humour, while entertaining, just can’t make up for it.