I have no doubt Swagger of Thieves will be regarded as not just a great Kiwi doco but also one of the world’s great rock documentaries. Boshier has made one of the finest documentaries this country has produced. It’s dirty. It’s raw. It’s rock’n’roll.
It made my eyes water, to be honest. Me. A hardened journalist, who has seen a lot of distressing things during a long career in the media trenches. But the sight of something so vulnerable and tender in close contact with something so sharp and dangerous, well… I had to take a few deep breaths.
It’s a film about addiction, death, theft and betrayal. About feuds and wounds that have never healed. About appalling behavior, chances squandered and people used and discarded. The title is savagely appropriate. ★★★★½
Swagger of Thieves is a masterpiece in film making – watching this made me realize that in a perfect world you get the band-doco you deserve. This is truly and utterly Head Like a Hole, it’s dirty and real – full of tensions and delusions but with a strange magic attached.
It’s an astonishing film. It’s rugged and raw, an emotional journey for anyone with even a passing remembrance of the 90’s rock act who formed in 1992.
Boshier’s unblinking lens captures possibly the best filmic evocation yet of what it means to be a touring rock band in New Zealand; squalid motel rooms, weird venues, passionate but potentially deranged fans, Laundromats and crowded vans. Outside, snow-capped mountains and wide-open spaces. Inside,second-hand smoke and several layers of clothing.
The humor in the story will have some viewers thinking of the rock parody This is Spinal Tap. Others will make the inevitable connection with Some Kind of Monster, which had rock band Metallica going into therapy. But the film Dig, about the rivalry between the Dandy Warhol’s and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, might be a better comparison. There is a similar self-destructiveness and rare access to the extremes of rock behavior.
"An astounding piece of film making and the best music documentary to come out of New Zealand ... it leaves everything else in the dust ... I'd put it up there with Some Kind of Monster (Metallica), Quiet Loud Quiet (The Pixies) ... it's amazing ... definitely go see it.
A cross between Metallica: Some Kind of Monster and Anvil: The Story of Anvil, with just a hint of This is Spinal Tap, Thieves is a dissection of a seemingly dysfunctionally doomed band you just can’t look away from. ★★★★
It’s ironic that such an agile and articulate documentary can be born from the burnt-out husk of a drug-addled rock band. But that’s excactly what first-time documentarian Julian Boshier has produced. ★★★★
Unrelentingly honest, to the point of probably being Aotearoa’s most insightful music doco, Swagger of Thieves catures what it means to be a band with a reputation in New Zealand.
Rockumentaries face an inevitable comparison with the genre’s parody blueprint, This is Spinal Tap. Swagger of Thieves, a fascinating jumble of a retrospective on Head Like a Hole, certainly earns it’s own. ★★★★
Swagger of Thieves is a heartfelt, hilarious and heartbreaking trip into the reality of the hardest-charging band of a generation. Whether you come as a fan of the music, as a fan of solid filmmaking, or as a bystander wondering what all the noise is about, you’ll be seeing one of the most intelligently assembled and truthfully told documentaries New Zealand has ever produced.