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Anthem (2023) movie review and synopsis

Of course, this frustration is rooted in the systematic oppression of anyone outside the majority. Produced by Ryan Coogler, director Peter Nicks’ documentary Anthem follows songwriter Kris Bowers (“Brigerton,” “Green Book”) and producer DJ Dahi (“Self Care” by Mac Miller, “Money Trees” by Kendrick Lamar) as they journey across America, seeking to reinvent the anthem.

The documentary takes the format of a road movie as Dahi and Bowers travel to the centers of the American genre such as Nashville, Detroit and the Bay Area, meeting musicians and discussing their love of the art form. All these individuals perform as well as transmit the stories, significance and qualities of their genres. In all the bands, the feeling is the same: music is love, music brings people together, and the anthem doesn’t really come true.

As they travel the country interviewing a variety of artists, every interaction is marked by a dull sense of artifice. There’s a lack of real chemistry within the conversations, and it feels more like checking boxes than engaging thoughtfully with the subjects. Dahi and Bowers lack chemistry and rapport as well, feeling like two talented students stuck together for a group project.

The camera always feels strongly about the people in front of the lens and this leads to a stiffness that takes the emotion out of the feeling. He turns these conversations into educational games instead of empathetic discussion. The value of what is being said is undeniable, but in a documentary whose thesis is rooted in empathy and unity, there is a counterintuitive emotional distance between the subjects that is further translated through the screen.

The format of “Hymn” is equally formulaic. Dahi and Bowers drive to a town, listen to their subjects play, and then interview them. This is repeated throughout the documentary, and as you work to get all the information outlined, it is tiring. Perhaps these downfalls are a result of the film’s ambition, following a transnational exploration of music, interviewing community figures and creating a song to cap it all. It’s a lot of information to cram into 98 minutes, and while a longer documentary was a possible solution, the lack of cohesion between the subjects is a more complicated solution.

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