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Movies & TV

26th Oct 2019

Western Stars finds Bruce Springsteen letting his fans in closer than ever

Rory Cashin

western stars review

The ultimate concert film for fans of The Boss.

Springsteen’s 19th album might not seem like the most obvious in-point to decide to take up co-directing a documentary about the album itself, but that is exactly what he has decided to do for Western Stars, an album that he has already informed the masses he won’t be taking on tour.

Part of that reason must obviously be the 30-piece orchestra that he’d need to bring with him around the world, who accompany him here for the live-recording of the album, track-by-track, filmed in a 100-year-old barn on Springsteen’s property.

He tells us that this barn is often used for his mythic-levels parties, and that the building is filled with history and meaning for him, and he and co-director Thom Zimny (who previously directed Springsteen On Broadway), do a fantastic job of setting the mood: during the performance, it is low-light, low-tables, and just Springsteen, his wife Patti Scalfia, and the orchestra on stage.

Interspersed between the songs are short vignettes, scored by Springsteen, in which he goes into the overarching theme of the Western Stars album, as well as specific talking points on each of the songs as the arrive in order.

These short films are, at times, both the best and worst parts of the documentary. Sometimes he is bracingly honest with his audience, admitting that he often “hurt the people that he loved the most” just to make sure they left him alone before he got too vulnerable around them. But there is a repetition of being caught up in regret of mistakes made over the years, and stylistically, they can come across like Levi’s ad trying to make a fridge-magnet-life-lesson.

It is when he focuses more on the songs themselves that Western Stars really lights up. ‘Drive Fast (The Stuntman)’ sounds like it really should have played over the end credits of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, the orchestration of ‘Hitch Hikin” give it a much more cinematic sound than what we get from the album version, and Scalfia joins in on the vocals for ‘Stones’ to heartbreaking effect.

Springsteen hasn’t so much written a love letter for his fans here, as let them in on a Dear John letter to who he was, making his peace with his younger self and all the missteps taken over the decades, and embracing the fact that he loves his wife, loves his life, loves his friends and family, but sometimes a man just needs to get in a car, on his own, and drive away from it for a bit.

Fans of Bruce will love his honesty and unique performance setting, as he gives us all a good look behind the curtain, but those not currently converted to his fanbase will still find more to enjoy here than just an expensive way of doing album liner notes.

Western Stars is showing for one night only in Irish cinemas on Monday 28 October. Check your local listings, or right here for tickets.

Clip via Warner Bros. Pictures

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