Shine A Light
2 out of 4 stars
On paper, the pairing of the Rolling Stones and director Martin Scorsese for a concert film was an obvious no-brainer. "The World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band" and the most rock music-friendly director in movie history? Bring it on.
The big problem is both camps show up to the party 30 years too late. Scorsese already made a far better version of this same movie in 1978 with "The Last Waltz." In it, he chronicled the history of the much-lower profile Canadian group "The Band" to remarkable effect. Mixing footage from their final concert with stark, sound check recordings and reflective, present day interviews, "The Last Waltz" is arguably the finest concert film ever made.
"Shine a Light" is culled from two 2006 shows at New York's Beacon Theater. Choosing such a relatively small venue was something the band and Scorsese got right. Trotting out Bill and Hillary Clinton and their extended families for an awkward "meet and greet" with the band prior to the shows was not. It's just a harbinger of things to come. For everything that goes right here, two things go wrong.
The most disappointing facet of the movie is the set list. While largely avoiding anything they've recorded since the late '70s (when they last really mattered), the band includes four songs from "Some Girls." The revamped "Shattered" works well, but the title track and momentum killing "Just My Imagination" and "Faraway Eyes" are limp and overlong. The same can be said for the Keith Richards vocals on "I Got the Silver" and "Connection."
Not a group known for sharing the stage with other acts, the band includes three very different duet partners here and all of them are winners. Wearing hot pants and looking every inch the rock goddess she normally isn't, Christina Aguilera actually shows Mick Jagger up on "Live with Me." Throaty blues veteran Buddy Guy does the same with the obscure Muddy Waters' chestnut "Champagne and Reefer." Jack White III joins the band for "Loving Cup" and it is the single finest performance in the film. Apart from opener "Jumping Jack Flash," "Tumbling Dice" and a rousing second half performance of "Sympathy for the Devil," the rest of the song selections are unimaginative and tepidly executed.
Scorsese's choice of documentary footage is nothing to write home about either. Without much rhyme or reason, he includes snippets dating back to the early '60s but none of them adds anything new to the band's legendary bad boy persona. The sole interesting clip has '70s era Dick Cavett asking Jagger if he could imagine himself doing this line of work in his 60s. Without missing a beat, Jagger responds with an affirmative.
In picking such an intimate venue as the Beacon, Scorsese was able to get up close and personal with the band, which is both good and bad. Even though Jagger is in remarkable physical shape for a man of any age, framing his heavily lined mug in such an unflattering light is, well, unflattering. At various points, Jagger, Richards and drummer Charlie Watts are captured catching their wind, which only emphasizes that rock and roll should remain a young person's profession.
Kudos to the Stones for remaining a perennial top concert draw, but there comes a time when you've got to pull the plug, if only for image sake. The Beatles got it right when they took their collective bows before they turned 30 and prevented themselves from transforming into pathetic self-parody.
What would have been infinitely more entertaining and satisfying would have been a full-blown, career-encompassing documentary. Scorsese and the band should have known better than to have gone this route so late in their careers. It greatly diminishes both of their stellar reputations. (Paramount)