May 282013


The premise is simple. Indie rock band The National have a position for a roadie, and lead singer Matt has a brother he doesn’t see often. So why not have Tom come on the band’s world tour?  Tom (who has always loved making movies) decides to use the opportunity to help out the band while making a documentary film about them. Sounds simple right? Of course it doesn’t quite go to plan. Review of documentary Mistaken for Strangers after the jump.

Joining older brother Matt on The National’s world tour is the perfect opportunity to make a movie. Tom has always been creative (according to his mother) and he has a perfect subject with The National. They’ve just released their 5th album High Violet, and are riding a wave of popularity after years of hard work.  Two things become apparent very quickly: 1. Tom isn’t a particularly good roadie & 2. Tom doesn’t know what film he is making. From day one Tom gets on the wrong side of the crew manager. He forgets things, drinks too much alcohol, isn’t where he should be, and most annoying of all, he always has that damn camera out. It seems that Tom is acting the part of the mischievous roadie in films or from times past, rather than doing the professional job that’s expected of all crew.

Tom may be filming everything, but that’s half the problem – it seems he is floundering, without any concrete idea of where his film is going. What starts off as an attempt to make a behind the scenes documentary about The National, soon morphs into a film examining his own failings and relationship his with his brother. It’s hard enough finding your path in life, but to do so in the shadow of fame is clearly difficult. Matt clearly loves his slightly directionless younger brother, but he also has little patience when it comes to anything which threatens the smooth running of the band. He’s a dedicated professional, and it obviously frustrates him that Tom has such a hard time following through on both his promises and his dreams. The relationship between these two brothers was quite fascinating to observe. They are so different, and yet they share the same creative core; something which we learn has been fostered by creative and loving parents. Watching the film I got the impression that Tom just hadn’t quite figured out the best way to channel his talents.

What works about this film is Tom’s willingness to be completely open. He shares his disappointments, his low points and the moments where he pushes others too far. You sympathise with Tom’s struggles to make the film, but at the same time you’re incredibly frustrated with him. It’s a very self-reflective, fascinating look into one person’s creative process. At times however I felt as if the film itself had issues with direction and it lagged in parts, as Tom struggled to settle on what he was actually trying to create. While the handheld camera lent itself well to some of the more intimate and candid  scenes, it was very distracting in others. There was some great, beautifully shot concert footage in the film, but as a huge fan of The National, I wish there had been more.


By Sam McCosh


The Facts

Director: Tom Berninger
Producers: Matt Berninger, Carin Besser, Craig Charland
Country: USA
Runtime: 75 minutes