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U2's 'From the Sky Down': What the Critics Are Saying (Video)

From the Sky Down Still 2011
Toronto Film Festival

Davis Guggenheim's documentary, which follows the Irish band as they "rethink" their "Achtung Baby" album in a Berlin recording studio, debuts Saturday night on Showtime.

Twenty years ago, U2 was at a crossroads in its career.

After reaching international success with their 1987 album The Joshua Tree, the rockers had a lot of pent-up tension. They could have broken up.

Instead, they went on to reinvent themselves with Achtung Baby.

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In Oscar winner Davis Guggenheim's (An Inconvenient Truth) documentary From the Sky Down, the band members -- Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen -- appear in never-before-seen 20-year-old footage in Berlin's Hansa Studios as they set about to "rethink" the album. The film, which premiered in Toronto last month and debuts at 8 p.m. Saturday on Showtime, also features new interviews with the quartet as they look back on the painstaking process. [Watch the trailer below.]

So what do the critics have to say about the doc?

The Hollywood Reporter's John DeFore wrote that the movie will likely appeal to both "lapsed" and current U2 fans.

"Though less obviously cinema-worthy than director Davis Guggenheim's recent 'big issue' docs, the film ... certainly holds the interest of viewers who have cared much about any phase in the band's long life," he wrote, adding: "The film's account of the ensuing Achtung Baby sessions is interesting enough to hold non-obsessives' attention: The one scene that initially looks unforgivably navel-gazey, featuring a long DAT playback, turns out to capture the surprise birth of the hit "One" within a meandering improv for another tune.
"

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The Los Angeles Times' Robert Lloyd, meanwhile, calls From the Sky Down a "fascinating" documentary.

"It has been made by Davis Guggenheim, the director of An Inconvenient Truth and It Might Get Loud, which featured U2 guitarist the Edge, and so comes with an air of directorial independence; it is not a thing of unadulterated self-celebration," he wrote, adding: "Though it makes its way to a happy ending, with some laughs along the way, this is largely a story of institutional drag, communication breakdowns, false starts and failures; one of its points .. is that the same show that felt like the 90 best minutes of your life might leave the people who played it angry and depressed and thinking about making a change."

Dan Aquilante of the New York Post gave the doc three out of four stars.

"The film is filled with surprises that many fans will see as revelations, such as Mullen’s steely hesitance to share percussion duties with a computer drum program, and how the Edge was literally at the edge -- distraught over his dissolving marriage (chronicled in the song 'Love Is Blindness')," he wrote, though he added that "had there been more insights on how the individual songs of Achtung Baby were created, the documentary would have benefited. But, what this film does capture nicely, is the band’s camaraderie, even during difficult times."

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The New York Times' Neil Genzlinger notes that the movie has some "nice" moments and is "at its most interesting when it touches on the remarkable historical moment that gave rise to Achtung Baby and when it examines the creation of the album’s songs," he wrote.

Genzlinger added: "Artists’ windy chatter about their creative angst rarely makes interesting listening for anyone but hard-core fans, and there’s a fair amount of it in From the Sky Down,” he wrote. "But the film ... has a few segments that get beyond platitudes."

Meanwhile, Hank Steuver of the Washington Post called the doc "intriguing."

From the Sky Down is packed with enough songs and performance footage to stoke a viewer’s romance with U2, but it never loses sight that it is about a technical process," he wrote. "It’s about how all the little compromises can still add up to a more solid creation.