Hired Gun

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Hired Gun Movie Poster Image
Music docu is best for rock, heavy metal fans; cursing.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 98 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Documentary shows the realities of working as a hired musician for popular artists. The musicians who are interviewed discuss the amount of hard work that goes into succeeding as a session player and the ups and downs of the career, and display tremendous passion for playing music. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The musicians are honest in discussing the highs and lows of their careers as session musicians. They display their love of music, and talk of the amount of hard work and dedication it takes to succeed in the music business as a backing musician to popular performers. 

Violence

Discussion and news footage of the plane crash that took the life of legendary guitarist Randy Rhoads. 

Sex

One of the musicians discusses playing in Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe's backing band, and how there would always be women kissing in the front rows and showing their "t-ts." 

Language

Occasional profanity. "Motherf----r," "f--k," "s--t," "t-ts," "douchey." Reference to "dropping a deuce." 

Consumerism

Discussion of various albums and live performances of various bands and musicians: Billy Joel, John Cougar Mellencamp, Alice Cooper, Metallica, Pink, Kiss, Steely Dan, Filter, among others. The producer of the movie is also interviewed throughout, and his band Five Finger Death Punch is featured prominently. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The bass player of Ozzy Osbourne's backing band talks of how they needed to continue their tour after the death of legendary guitarist Randy Rhoads in order to prevent Osbourne from drinking himself to death. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Hired Gun is a 2017 documentary about the ups and downs in the lives and careers of session musicians. While it does present a complete sense of what's required to succeed and maintain a career in the music industry as a working musician, it's also slanted heavily toward heavy metal and classic rock. The overwhelming majority of the subjects interviewed are white, male, and Baby Boomers. People of color and women are only briefly acknowledged. That said, this documentary is best for aspiring musicians who enjoy spending their weekends noodling on guitars in their hometown mall's Guitar Center, as well as fans of Billy Joel, Toto, and late-period Alice Cooper. There's some profanity, including "f--k" and variations, and brief mention of women flashing their breasts at concerts and making out with each other. There's discussion and news footage of the plane crash that took the life of legendary guitarist Randy Rhoads. 

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What's the story?

HIRED GUN shines the spotlight on session musicians -- the often overlooked and uncredited players who performed on many of the best-loved songs and back up many of the most popular musicians on tour. The highs and lows of the working musician's life are discussed in great detail, as well as the untold story behind such legendary songs as "Only the Good Die Young," "Jack & Diane," and "Peg." Alice Cooper, Pink, and Rob Zombie discuss how important backing musicians have been in their careers, while the backing musicians themselves discuss the challenges they face each time they play, as well as the passion that keeps them going. Stories such as the tragic death of legendary Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Randy Rhoads, the rise and fall of Billy Joel's '70s and '80s backing band, and Jason Newsted's epic journey from megafan to bass player of Metallica are told in great detail. 

Is it any good?

Perhaps if this documentary had been called Hired Guns in Classic Rock and Heavy Metal, it would be less of a disappointment. But it didn't, and the result is a documentary that presents the realities of fulfilling the dream of making a living as a session musician but is devoted almost entirely to white male Baby Boomers. People of color and women are given very little space to discuss their experiences. And while 20 Feet from Stardom and Standing in the Shadows of Motown have already done much to illuminate them, it still feels downright shameful that Hired Gun can't even mention in passing legends such as Merry Clayton, James Jamerson, and Bernard Purdie.

Some of the stories are interesting: Guys from Billy Joel's backing band leave no illusions that Joel, who once turned down a chance to work with Beatles producer George Martin because Martin wanted to bring in other studio musicians instead of using Joel's backing band, turned into as big of a jerk as Gene Simmons. Rudy Sarzo -- who played bass with Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot, and Whitesnake -- comes across as both insightful and full of wisdom that musicians who aren't fans of "dad rock" and metal might appreciate. But overall, there isn't enough of a focus to present the complete picture of the "hired gun," and even the term "hired gun" seems stretched the way it's used here; for instance, Jason Newsted, who played bass for Metallica for 15 years, is made to be a "hired gun" because he replaced the original bass player, the late Cliff Burton. By that logic, Mick Taylor and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones would be "hired guns" because they replaced Brian Jones. The takeaway is that the filmmakers didn't really stray too far from friends and friends of friends, and the result is a documentary that should have broad appeal limiting itself to fans of a very small sliver of the vast musical spectrum. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about music documentaries. How does Hired Gun compare to other music documentaries you've seen? 

  • How does the documentary convey its message of giving credit to the session musicians who performed and helped write (often uncredited) some of the best-known popular songs of our time? 

  • Does the documentary's primary focus on classic rock and heavy metal limit its appeal? Why or why not? 

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