A few confessions regarding the impossibility of critical impartiality due to Clash fandom precede reviews of "Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten," a doc from Julien Temple, who previously chronicled the Sex Pistols in "The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle" and "The Filth and the Fury." Among those ‘fessing up, Andrew O’Hehir at Salon, who suggests that "Temple’s film will inevitably be viewed by people of roughly my age and with roughly my background as a kind of generational myth, which is likely to irritate the crap out of everyone else," but who nevertheless labels it "the most powerful documentary I’ve seen all year, and one of the two or three best films ever made about an artist or musician." And A.O. Scott at the New York Times writes that "Itâ€™s likely that I would have been stirred and moved by ‘Joe Strummer:
The Future Is Unwritten,’ even if it were the straightforward,
VH1-ready rock star biography it might, at first, appear to be." According to him, it’s "much more than a biography of the Clashâ€™s guitarist and lead singer: Itâ€™s history, criticism, philosophy and politics, played fast and loud." Nick Schager at Slant, on the other hand, not a Clash fan, finds that
film’s focus on Strummer rather than his music "means that those
unconvinced about the greatness of ‘London Calling’ and ‘Rock the
Casbah’ will likely remain so. Yet the director’s ability to capture
Strummer’s complex, idiosyncratic personality is so compelling that it
barely matters whether one believes what the film is saying; the point
is that one feels it." Armond White at the New York Press suggests that "Temple shows how the music expressed Strummerâ€™s experiences. The ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ sequence ought to set the standard for artistic/biographical interpretation. Every music lover should see itâ€”and so should Todd Haynes."
Glenn Kenny at Premiere quibbles with a few of the interview choices before concluding that "one wondrous thing about the movie is that, true to its title, it doesn’t feel in the least bit nostalgic. At its best, it throbs with immediacy, just as Strummer did." Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly does feel that nostalgia: "The Future Is Unwritten made me long for the era when a rock star could burn â€” and even burn out â€” this brightly."
"The Future Is Unwritten is as overstuffed as Sandinista!, but it races ahead like ‘White Riot,’" writes the Onion AV Club‘s Noel Murray, while Nick Pinkerton at indieWIRE declares that the film "is no radical departure in content from most print-the-legend rock docs… What merit it has comes mainly through hooking onto the momentum of the Clash’s music–the editing decoupages archived rehearsal video over excerpts from Zero de conduit, Orwell adaptations, and streetfighting footage, making for a crackling melange of generalized ‘rebellion’ that fits the band’s own fist-in-the-air bosh." Jim Ridley at the Village Voice finds that "The Future Is Unwritten is less a eulogy than a wake, and one in which the subject is startlingly present." A disappointed David Edelstein at New York disagrees, writing that "the late rocker doesnâ€™t carry the movie… You only get a taste of what made the Clash for a brief period the most exciting band on that side of the Atlantic (the Ramones dominated ours) in an early live performance of ‘Iâ€™m So Bored With the USA,’ which makes you want to pogo up and down and throw up your fists."