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Review: Western Stars

October 25, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Bruce Springsteen’s latest album, Western Stars, which was released earlier this year, is an introspective, often bittersweet concept album of sorts that tells the story of a fading Western movie star, and finds the iconic American rocker branching out to country music and performing with a thirty piece orchestra.

Not intending to go on tour with it, Springsteen only performed the album live once in front of a private audience, holding the invite-only concert in an old barn on his farm property in New Jersey, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those who were lucky enough to attend.

This concert is beautifully captured by cinematographer Joe Desalvo in the film Western Stars, which is co-directed by Springsteen and filmmaker Thom Zimny, who is no stranger to music documentaries and previously directed the musician in the Netflix concert film Springsteen on Broadway. Together they have crafted an excellent concert film that heightens our appreciation of Springsteen’s latest album, and serves as a soaring companion piece to one of his most intimate works.

The album’s thirteen tracks are beautifully performed by Springsteen in the film, sometimes joined by his wife Patti Scialfa doing backup vocals, and the musical numbers are complimented by introspective interludes with the artist reflecting upon his life and how much of his work is infused with ideas about the American Dream. These moments find the musician looking back on a country that has changed a lot over the years, which compliments the nostalgic nature of the songs.

The film culminates with an excellent cover of the old Glen Campbell song “Rhinestone Cowboy,” which serves as not only a touching tribute to Campbell, but also another way that Springsteen is both looking to the past and reshaping it for the future. The Boss delivers a faithful cover of the song but also brings his own unique quality to it, making this a very fitting final note upon which to end this film. 

Watching Western Stars is a wonderful and at times moving experience, especially during an emotional performance of the song “Chasin’ Wild Horses” that will have many viewers holding back tears, and it’s a must see for Springsteen fans.

Western Stars is now playing in select theatres across Canada.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

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