The Dirt is exactly what it says in the title. It is film where for the first hour every second scene is sex, drugs or notorious nonsense, where one of the biggest bands of the 1980s embody masculinity at both its most toxic and subversive, and where Ozzy Osbourne snorts a line of live ants. Jeff Tremaine’s biopic of notorious glam rockers Mötley Crüe is everything it needed to be, a gratuitous but cautionary celebration of excess coupled with one of the most brutally honest depictions of self-destruction since Trainspotting (1996).
The film may be produced by the band themselves, but unlike with Bohemian Rhapsody they don’t care about protecting a golden legacy. Right from the off, Tremaine makes his Jackass movie experience clear when depicting the band’s hard sex, harder drugs and even harder rock. The first hour leaves you in an appalled state of laughter as the band drag themselves further down the rabbit hole. Your inability to fully process Mötley Crüe’s antics drags you head first into the calamitous pit of 1980s Hollywood, and Tremaine does well to make you feel trapped in the hedonistic dungeon of the band’s life.
For the second half, it becomes far more sombre; a warning about the dangers of stardom. Bassist Nikki Sixx’s heroin overdose is just one example where The Dirt becomes almost impossible to watch, twisting your arm until you feel as helpless to stop it as he did. The other band members experience hardships of their own and the film is not afraid to include their most horrible deeds, from manslaughter to domestic abuse. The result is a more pessimistic, scathing review of 1980s hard rock and a portrait of the living hell that this life sucked you into. It feels like a refreshingly new and necessary take on rock n’ roll.
Mostly new, anyway. The basic music biopic structure — going from nothingness to fame, then encountering struggles, and finally a resolution — is not challenged much by The Dirt. Some plot points such as lead guitarist Mick Mars’ chronic illness feel too secondary for what they are. The Dirt, for all its shock value content, can feel like nothing more than another streamlined and incomplete peek at history.
What saves the film though are its four leads, all of whom fall into their roles with gravitas and charisma — especially Machine Gun Kelly, the big surprise of the cast. They ache with regret and a longing to do things differently, but perhaps frustratingly stop short of an apology. A sophisticated biopic this is not, but it never needed to be. It is a colourful and indulgent lesson about fame, a benchmark for future bands about exactly what they shouldn’t do.
Image: Jake Giles Netter