Cast: Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa
Director: Bruce Springsteen, Thom Zimmy
Western Stars is going to be a very tough movie to review because on one end, it’s barely a movie. It’s more like a live concert with a narrative element that comes in the form of confessionals detailing the message behind the song. Detailing the life of Springsteen, we see his development over the course of his life as he matures and tackles various issues such as love, pain, and growing older. For a man releasing his 19th album, Springsteen shows audiences he still has the sensitivity and style needed to carry a performance like he has for so many years leading up to this.
The film shows Springsteen and his band debuting his newest album in a barn in front of an audience of his biggest fans. Over the course of 13 new tracks and an old classic thrown in there for balance, Bruce details the events of his life, his highs, lows, and everything in between and how he’s learned to cope with his struggles over the course of his 70 years of life experience. Ultimately, Western Stars is a relatively entertaining movie, but I don’t know if it’s really necessary. Sure traditional Springsteen fans will enjoy seeing him perform and showing us that he still has it, but everyone else might end up bored. The more emotional moments Bruce has are relatively short and don’t give the type of emphasis needed to develop more of a connection with the topics. And while the performance is good, it doesn’t really establish itself as needed or necessary. That’s what makes this movie so hard to rate, because it lacks any sort of real filmmaking elements needed for me to judge it. It’s not a documentary, but it doesn’t exactly have a narrative structure either. It’s just a concert with some backstory and that’s about it. Sure the music is good and Springsteen still performs well, but I don’t know if it warrants an entire movie about it. The sound is captured well and the music itself is entertaining, but it’s almost to the level where it’s self-indulgent and self-promotional. I understand the need to promote the album and celebrate a long career with fans who have been there along the way, but outside of that the film doesn’t necessarily serve any higher purpose or need. If it’s any consolation, Bruce’s new album does sound like it has a few good songs on it so go check it out and see if it’s for you. I know movie and music releases aren’t often simultaneously coordinated, but it would be interesting or even beneficially if this movie had a dual release with Blinded By The Light so fans can see a fictionalized version of the impact Sprinsteen has had on their lives. If you don’t care for the backstory portion of the movie, then at least the movie will take you where you need to go and keep you entertained for the full duration of the film’s 83 minute runtime. Western Stars rides the line between a movie and a music video and does this well enough to captivate audiences but lacks the depth to truly move them.
Overall, Western Stars is enjoyable, but maybe not exactly what I was expecting. I thought based on the promotional materials that this would be a profound look at life and the world around us by Springsteen, but really it’s an album performance with a couple of sentences thrown together before each song is played. I don’t exactly know how many people are lining up to buy Springsteen albums these days, but those who pick this one up should find a track or two they relate to and now they have a movie to complement it.
Overall Score: 7/10