For those of you who sit around wondering what Kiefer Sutherland does during his down time from single-handedly saving the world from terrorists, I’m guessing very few of you would have come up with “tour manager for fledgling rock band”. Along with long time friend Jude Cole, Sutherland owns and runs Ironworks Music, an independent recording studio and record label, whose first signing is—no, not Kiefer’s very own movie/TV star vanity band (phew!)—but one Rocco DeLuca and his band, the Burden.
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of them—no one else has, either. I Trust You to Kill Me, a rather pedestrian but agreeable documentary about this band’s entrée into the music biz, aims to alleviate this glaring ignorance on the part of the general public. It’s part of a multi-pronged promotional campaign by Sutherland, the studio, and VH1 (the film has already aired on the network) to bring the musical merits and possible genius of DeLuca to light.
Now, this alleged genius may not be readily apparent from what we see of DeLuca and his band in the film itself, or from the brief clips of songs one can sample from their debut album on their website ( see RoccoDeLuca.com) . A roguish cross between Mark Ruffalo and Jeff Tweedy, DeLuca certainly looks the superficial part of rock star, but he also possesses a doozy of voice, somewhere on a range between Robert Plant’s banshee howl and Jack White’s nasally faux bluesman. And musically, his songs slot in somewhere near the White Stripes barebones revivalism, but closer maybe to somewhat jammy bands like Dispatch and Guster (the additional percussionist in the band, playing mainly bongos, certainly gives this charge some credence).
The Burden is mostly unremarkable if competent, and actually seem to hold DeLuca back a bit, burying both his voice and songs beneath fairly plodding and muddy backing, to the point where DeLuca needs to adopt a frenzied mien, breaking down into feedback drenched wigouts to stand out. And the thing is, he might not actually need his backing group at all. When he performs solo he appears more in his natural element. The love of and appreciation for his influences—mostly old-timey blues and Appalachian murder ballads—becomes apparent and obvious, and DeLuca seems on the cusp of blossoming into something notable, if not yet exceptional. But alas, he is saddled with this band, for better or for worse, and the only real thing worthy of note about them in toto is DeLuca’s choice to play a tricked out dobro guitar rather than a standard electric, lending the band a veneer of some sort of authenticity it doesn’t quite possess.
But don’t tell Sutherland this. I guess the most refreshing thing about I Trust You to Kill Me is that it never seems to smack of a vanity project, a pose, a grasp for some street cred. Sutherland always comes across as motivated by love of the music and unwavering belief in DeLuca’s genius. He very much wants the film to about the band and, you know, “The Music”, but was there ever any doubt about who would garner the lion’s share of the filmmaker’s (and the audience’s) attention? To the best of my knowledge, this is the first music documentary that is almost totally about a road manager. Along with signing and enabling DeLuca, Sutherland has also arranged a brief European tour for them, and acts himself as shepherd, promoter, and roadie for the two or three weeks he has off from shooting 24. So he quickly vaults from just introducing the band to us early on in the film, to becoming the star of the show once they hit the road.
And so mostly the film splits time between live footage of gigs, parties after the gigs, and getting the next gig set up; most of the latter two activities focusing exclusively on Sutherland, a notorious partier, but also a rather effective organizer, tapping into the same sort of resourcefulness that makes him such a valuable government agent (ha!). And really, since the rest of the band besides DeLuca are rather bland, if pleasant; and DeLuca himself either a bit whiny and/or a bit camera shy without a guitar in his hand; this film has to be about Sutherland almost by default.
But the usual excess and soul searching we expect with rock docs isn’t really to be found anywhere, as much as Sutherland contends otherwise. The craziest, most unhinged moment, involves Kiefer drunkenly tackling a Christmas tree. The biggest moment of conflict involves a brief argument with a booking agent for a German restaurant/bar about whether the band will play upstairs in the dining room or downstairs in the bar for a New Year’s Eve gig. The best, and most amusing, sequences find Sutherland wandering drunkenly around Dublin, handing out free tickets to the band’s undersold gig at a local club. He seems to have a ball with people who vaguely recognize him, others who run up to him yelling “Jack Bauer!” over and over again, or those refuse to believe that he actually is Kiefer Sutherland begging of their attention. It’s the sort of larky goofiness cum humility that you rarely see celebrities indulge in, and you wish the entire film carried this spirit.
Alas. So I Trust You to Kill Mecomes across not so much as dull—it’s breezy and short enough to entertain—as entirely unnecessary. Rock documentaries have become so rote and stale (mostly via VH1’s very own series Behind the Music), that it really takes something mammoth, something monstrous, indeed, some kind of monster (ha!) of a film to rise above the clichés. And Rocco DeLuca and the Burden is simply not that band, and I Trust You to Kill Me is not that film. Furthermore, it’s hard to root for a scrappy band who have lost their scrap through the good fortune of finding a rich patron who opens doors that they might have otherwise had to scrape away for years to open.
And ultimately, the music, while listenable, certainly doesn’t merit the sort of attention this film wants to give it. DeLuca just hasn’t developed enough as a distinctive songwriter yet, although there are enough hints there that one day he might. The titular song, which bookends the film (and stupefyingly does not even appear on the debut album) is a real corker of sludgy swamp blues that hints that DeLuca could perhaps find some success in the same channels that gave such improbable success to the White Stripes. It’s the type of song that you can take down deep, that sounds hewed from the heart, that might even inspire someone to get the refrain of the song tattooed on one’s arms (which is exactly what Sutherland does). There are moments when DeLuca sounds like he means it—it’s exciting and electric – those are the epiphanal moments we listen to music for. Sadly, the rest of I Trust You to Kill Me mostly belies the danger and promise embedded in the best songs, opting instead for the fairly hackneyed template of the struggling band on the rise. Here’s to hoping that Sutherland’s faith is not misplaced, and that DeLuca will be able to eventually capitalize on his potential and without the camera hovering around him.
And as far as any danger Sutherland’s moonlighting gig may put him out of his day job, don’t you worry kiddos: immediately following the tour, Sutherland was summarily fired as the band’s manger. Thus, freed, you can trust Agent Jack Bauer to kill, again (as if that was ever in doubt).