The Judge Gordon Sullivan Band stopped playing—for the common good.
The journey of a man and his band and the heroes they meet along the way
The electric bass, with few exceptions—Jaco Pastorious, Stanley Clark, Victor Wooten, etc.—is an instrument associated with simplicity. Notes played in groups of four or eight on the beat that fade into the background, used primarily to get the backside shaking. Sure it's an unfair stereotype that bass players don't require much in the way of intelligence or aptitude, and it says even more about actors that so many of them become bass players. Several participants in Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good speak derisively of their experience with actors who "play bass," but it's to his credit that every one of them counts Gary Sinise as the exception to the simpleminded bass player who dabbles in music when he's not acting. Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good is a record of his experiences playing bass in a band that tours for the USO and various charities. It's a feel-good documentary that shows a different side to the actor and offers fans some decent tunes.
When 9/11 happened, Gary Sinise, like many Americans, was deeply affected by the tragedy. He immediately stepped up his commitment to tour with the USO, doing personal appearances to cheer up our troops. Wherever he went, Sinise was recognized not as the founder of an amazing Chicago theater (the Steppenwolf), but as Lt. Dan from his role in Forrest Gump. Around the same time, he was getting deeply into playing music with guitarist Kimo Williams. Sinise decided to combine his USO tours with his nascent jam band, and The Lt. Dan Band was born. For the past several years they've been playing a medley of classic and contemporary rock music to troops via the USO and for military charities stateside. For the Common Good documents that journey through live footage and interviews with the members of the evolving band, especially Sinise himself.
For the Common Good is working on two levels. First, it's a document of the charitable actions of one man, a feel-good story about what one very generous man can make happen. In this film, Sinise comes off as one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people to every have been associated with Hollywood. He doesn't try to throw politics into the situation, nor apparently get any personal gain from his activities. Instead, he saw a simple need—to entertain the troops—and he put his talent and resources totally behind that outcome. There's no ego and no bull. He's not trying to save the world, but he is trying to put on a good show and he takes that mission as seriously as if it were life or death. The picture of the man that emerges might as well be referred to as Saint Sinise (though the humility he shows throughout the film would deny this nickname).
The other level on which this documentary works is as tangible evidence of The Lt. Dan Band. The group has probably entertained tens of thousands of people, both military and civilian. Now, those individuals can take a bit of the Lt. Dan Band home with them, and those who've missed the show for whatever reason can watch the band in the comfort of the living room.
Taken on either level, For the Common Good is a fine documentary. Watching Gary Sinise do his thing in some of the footage (like when he visits NYC or talks to regular troops) is quite powerful, and the story of how and why the Lt. Dan Band came to be is funny and touching. Similarly, the film includes enough live performance footage and funny stories about the band to satisfy those who have been or would like to go see a performance.
The DVD is solid as well. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer looks like a clean, contemporary production, with solid color saturation and no significant noise or compression problems. The film offers both stereo and 5.1 mixes that do a fine job balancing the music of the band with the interviews and other audio elements.
The haters might complain that with all the power and influence that Gary Sinise can muster it's a shame that he didn't use it to do something more to bring the troops home, especially after it became obvious that much of the U.S. reasoning behind the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were spurious. Also, as a music fan (and specifically a fan of much of the classic rock repertoire of the Lt. Dan Band), there's not much here that impresses me. The Lt. Dan Band provide simple, clean covers of some staples, but they're not much better or more impassioned than the average bar bands (even if the technical prowess of those involved is of a higher caliber). Plus, it's really weird to see "Baba O'Reilly" (whose last line is "It's only teenage wasteland") played to several thousand adoring troops. Finally, fans of the band might be miffed at the lack of extras. A few complete performances or some extra interview material would have been nice.
Though not for everyone, The Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good is a solid documentary of one actor's attempts to bring a little succor to the troops doing something he loves. Fans of Gary Sinise will certainly enjoy seeing this side of the actor, and anyone who has enjoyed seeing the band will want to pick this DVD up.
Lt. Dan and company are free to go.
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