Review by Camden Ferrell
Western Stars is a concert documentary featuring Bruce Springsteen and his album of the same name. This film is directed by Springsteen and Emmy-winner Thom Zimny. While it is undoubtedly the retrospective product of a mature artist, it can sometimes feel bogged down by its overly manufactured structure.
The movie consists of a performance of the entirety of Springsteen’s nineteenth studio album. Each song is separated by a brief vignette that reflects on the meaning of each song and further explores Springsteen’s persona. This is a fairly standard concert documentary, but due to his extensive experience, this movie does feel more emotionally involved and engaging.
The best part of this movie is how intimate it is. His performance is done in his family’s barn that gives the film a really personal feeling. That along with the aesthetic of the barn makes it feel like home, and it’s a perfect place to perform his new album.
As far as the music goes, the album is a generally solid piece of art. Springsteen experiments with orchestral instrumentation in his music which gives the band a fuller sound. The musicality throughout is truly admirable. The sound mixing can be a little odd at times, but for the most part, it does a great job of blending the strings, brass, and percussion as well as the numerous guitars and Springsteen’s vocals.
The music’s only flaw is that the lyrics can sometimes feel a bit shallow. The intent is clear in each song, but sometimes they’re not written in a very original way. Regardless, these are honest words that come from a man with a long musical history. Some standout tracks include the majestically optimistic Hitch Hikin and Western Stars as well as the emotionally charged There Goes My Miracle.
It also becomes an emotional experience for longtime fans as well. The scenes between the songs are very retrospective. He doesn’t let his present be defined by his past, but he does explore the role his past had in shaping him as a person. He reflects on his career, family, love, and life itself. Even for Springsteen novices, it’s obvious that this is a movie that could not have been made by him at any other stage in his life than right now.
The main problem with the film is its structure. Even though it is similar to the standard concert doc template, the transitions feel unnatural. It feels artificial, which is an off-putting trait since it heavily contrasts the performances very natural feeling. It soon becomes repetitive and a tad tiresome towards the middle of the movie.
Despite its flaws, this is a movie that will be a cinematic treat to fans old and young. It’s a noble directorial debut for Springsteen, and it’s a solid companion piece to his newest album. Even if it there are some tedious moments, it’s an ultimately rewarding experience.
Western Stars is in theaters now.