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film review

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band follows Robertson from his early life in Toronto and on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve to the creation of the legendary roots-rock group.Courtesy of TIFF

  • Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band
  • Directed by Daniel Roher
  • Classification 14A
  • 100 minutes


2 out of 4 stars

Martin Scorsese made the legendary concert documentary The Last Waltz, but it is Robbie Robertson who gets the last word. More or less based on Robertson’s 2016 memoir Testimony and corresponding with the release of the musician’s new solo album Sinematic, the Robertson-authorized Once Were Brothers is an account of the Band’s rise and fall, as remembered by the titular guitarist, chief songwriter and excellent raconteur.

Testifying as to the iconic roots-rockers’ late-sixties uniqueness are Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton and blues artist Taj Mahal, who goes so far as to proclaim the group America’s answer to the Beatles. Of course, the band members (except for singer-drummer Levon Helm) were Canadian. Why did Toronto director Daniel Roher leave that gaffe in? And why didn’t he have Garth Hudson, the Band’s only other surviving member, on camera?

Instead, we have Robertson (and his ex-wife) fretting over the drug use and car accidents of Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Helm. We do see an archival clip of Helm leading The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. “All the people were singing,” but this film only listens to Robertson.

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band opens Sept. 20 in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver