Ewan Gleadow

Movie Review: Western Stars

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Copyright: Warner Bros.

As we move into an era of autotuned nonsense and vague semblances of political-fuelled rap, it’s nice to see a man can still put an album out with a horse on the cover. That bastion of the American legacy will never die. No matter how often the collective masses stomp the country and western genres down, it crops back up all the same, like a horrid wart for those that dislike acoustic tracks singing about fading legacies, horses, and hitchhiking. For those that dislike those topics, Western Stars is simply not for you. A collection of performances from Bruce Springsteen’s album of the same name, directed by the man himself, with some help from frequent collaborator and director Thom Zimny. 

Profound it may be to see a gifted man perform with ease; Western Stars suffers from trying too hard to coax emotions from its audience. Joy is clear from the immediate moments of this opening, Springsteen revels in a love for his craft, his energy pours from the screen with some lovely performances. Stealing the show somewhat is that rather generic, pop-up book of philosophy. Springsteen flicks through the pages of experience, offering up what he must feel is rather inspired, thought-provoking content. Not horrible, certainly earnest at the very least, but it’s hard to take serious advice from shot composition and settings that look like an advert for Redneck diazepam.  

Another one of those documentaries that feels like a natural peek behind the curtain, but in fact is actually very constricted in the moments it shows. Expecting anything less than caution from Springfield’s hand in the direction of this would be foolish. Still, hosting his album, Western Stars, in a barn of “natural beauty”, is a somewhat solid choice. Not entirely blown away by Springsteen’s musing on the soul found in this wooden barn, but the spirit is there and a performance of his album live for all to hear is bound to appeal to the biggest of his fans.  

Western Stars doesn’t take a gamble in presenting Springsteen to us. The man can still sing, and he does so well. Empty musings that have faux poetry littered throughout them link these performances together. Those same vacant thoughts can be found on the album, too, a mediocre offering from Springsteen when compared to the glory days of Born to Run or Born in the U.S.A. Harsh it may be to expect so much more from an artist of forty years’ experience, but this acceptable quality leaves a lot to be desired. A concert film can only be as good as the material it bases itself on. Nineteen albums into his career, and he is still writing about cars.