At the same time, the age of the material works against Maysles's characteristically observational technique. Ten years and several national mindsets later, the unifying spirit guiding an event of this nature rings hollow, turning the entire project into a period piece. By definition, the vérité approach doesn't actively dig beneath the surface, and so subtext lurks just outside the frame.
There's an undeniable thrill to watching McCartney cavort with the many high profile guests assembled for the event, including Eric Clapton, Elton John, Mick Jagger and Jay-Z, not to mention non-musical celebrities like Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, and Bill Clinton. In McCartney's presence, many of them drop the professional facade, but pithy conversations lend an airy vibe and the undeniable sense that the filmmakers are dodgy about their intentions. The movie captures a prevalent mood that takes on entirely new definition in retrospect. The concert honors firefights and the NYPD, one of whom takes the mic to speak beyond the crowd and address none other than Osama bin Laden: "You can kiss my royal Irish ass."
That form of derision may have stuck around for bin Laden's bitter end, but the rampant patriotism took a different route. McCartney's bittersweet music provides a handy reflection of the times, particularly the lyrics for "I'm Down" ("how can you laugh when you know I'm down?"), although it fails to channel the more aggressive feelings of grief and vengeance hanging in the air. As a throwback, it softens history.
However, if one were to consider "The Love We Make" as nothing more than a slice of McCartney's celebrity in the twilight of his sixties, it provides the same front row perspective as countless Maysles snapshots, from "Meet Marlon Brando" to "With Love From Truman," which puts Truman Capote in close-up. McCartney's deft ability to handle autograph seekers is balanced off by his more than competent musicality, but there's never a moment where Maysles and Kaplan cede control to their subject and simply let one song play through, and that's a shame. He sounds terrific.
Too truncated for consideration as a concert movie and not intimate enough to push beyond McCartney's professional life, "The Love We Make" mainly serves as a reminder that he's still got the goods (or at least did a decade ago) and avoided burning out. Clinton, in a backroom aside, lays out the fundamental appeal. Speaking of the boomer generation dominating the MSG stage, he tells McCartney, "We did a good job of hanging around." There's a reason why the movie's off-the-cuff demeanor moves along in spite of many missing pieces: While "The Love We Make" emphasizes McCartney's persistence, it equally celebrates Maysles' staying power as well.
criticWIRE grade: B-
HOW WILL IT PLAY? "The Love We Make" begins a two-week run at New York's Film Forum today, where it should do solid business based on the track record the theater has for music documentaries of this nature. McCartney and Maysles provide a strong combination that should also drive its business in ancillary markets.