Title: Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good
Director: Jonathan Flora
Starring: Gary Sinise, Kimo Williams
A solid documentary needs to encompass certain criteria to attract and maintain the viewer’s attention (sounds like modern-day sex). The footage compiled should be informative, present any pertinent background info, and have some sort of counter-argument; since these pieces are usually trying to get a point across. That said, the latter point does not apply to “Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good.” Why? Simply because there is no need to argue about something that is infallible.
At the heart of this documentary, it’s all about supporting the brave men and women who fight for our freedoms. Actor Gary Sinise has been quietly touring with his musical crew known as the Lt. Dan Band. Basically, they’re a cover band; who in conjunction with the USO, fly anywhere there are stationed troops; with the goal of entertaining and letting them know they are truly appreciated for all their efforts.
Sinise was flushed with emotions after 9/11 as the footage depicts as he recalls his thoughts while strolling around Ground Zero. He immediately felt the need to do something. After taking part in USO trips – and then jamming with fellow band mate guitarist Kimo Williams (who does a solid rendition of Purple Haze in the flick) – more and more people became inspired to join up and rock out with them on this patriotic act.
Before the filmmaker completely jumps into the dynamics of the band’s role in the USO, the piece briefly explores how Sinise’s iconic character in Forrest Gump came to be. This segment acts as a more-or-less DVD bonus feature which chronicles the rigors of preparing to play that character to Sinise’s relation with the soldiers at the present time. From there, audiences will get a heavy dose of the musicianship of the band.
It’s at this point, where this straight-forward doc can transcend themes and double with a “Behind the Music” type format. Not only does one learn about the how the versatile Lt. Dan Band’s efforts touch the troops – and the band itself – but the material can educate about the functions of a traveling band. Sure they’re not trashing hotel rooms and diving into the clichéd rocker shenanigans; yet seeing what goes into life on the road, along with the sacrifices and obstacles the band has to overcome, is kind of an interesting reveal. Taking the viewer “behind the curtain” is always a crowd pleaser.
Then there’s sidebars with other notable Hollywood stars such as Jon Voight, Robert Duvall and Raquel Welch (the ultimate cougar – still gorgeous & classy at 70); who speak on why it is so important to do whatever you can in letting our soldiers know how grateful we are as a country. Now at this point, some works can overdue it and come across as a cheerleading piece (Waiting for Superman much?). When executing that tone, most docs end up holding themselves back. Director Jonathan Flora manages to focus on reactions rather than toss a bunch of lauds toward Sinise. The soft-spoken Sinise and all the other band members are also on camera reflecting on what they’ve seen in the Middle East and on the domestic front while visiting the bases all over the country. These sequences aren’t necessarily eye-openers by any means but they do serve a purpose in providing a candid look at the impact the Lt. Dan Band is having.
What does widen the eyes, is footage of Sinise walking through Saddam’s palaces in stereo with the World Trade Center attacks, that are amazingly frustrating to see. These are moments when the content is trying to provide a cohesive story in showing why Sinise is so passionate about what he is doing with this musical project. Which as alluded to, also becomes a tad uncomfortable to watch, as the numerous shots of 9/11 horrors enter the screen. These shots have to be include though for cause and effect purposes. And this emotional journey comes full circle when NYC fire fighters, police officers, along with widowers and fallen servicemen’s children, are brought into the picture showing just how much of an affect the acts of terror still have on them today. That said, this storytelling set-up enables a happy ending when seeing the constant reaction of what Sinise and his eclectic group of musicians (horn section, back-up singers, keyboards, etc) achieve in brightening each one of the above mentioned “victims” faces.
And just before this piece fades to black, the raw power of the closing shot sums it all up on what sparked the making of this documentary.
Overall, Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good is a blunt reminder that we can do more. It may also serve as a wake-up call that some of us do not have it all that bad. Mechanically, the piece-meal story can lose its flow at certain turns. Its obvious Flora had so much footage to go through, that choosing what & where to put things became an obstacle. For the most part, they overcome the majority of technical challenges. When factoring in the numerous live performances of classic songs ranging from Stevie Wonder to Mariah Carey, having the viewing audience engaged is always prevalent. This band can really play, too! And watching Gary Sinise’s jerky stage presence is kind of amusing as well. But we’re not judging his lack of physical rhythm, for he makes up for it with his smooth bass chops.
All-n-all, this standard-issued documentary accomplishes its mission.
Review by Joe Belcastro