Let's break it down like this: If you own more than two live Buffalo Springfield bootlegs, take issue with Neil Young's 2003 biography, Shakey, or can name three characters from his operetta Greendale, there's no need for you to read this review. Just get your ass down to Cinema 21 and enjoy Neil Young: Heart of Gold. But if you're like most of us—you own between five and 15 of Young's CDs, rock to some obscure songs as well as the greatest hits, and think that old Neil is one of the coolest dudes currently walking the planet—just crank up Freedom on the stereo, grab a beer, and skip this snoozefest of a film.
Heart of Gold is a straight-up concert film—it opens with about five minutes of Young's backing musicians (his country band, not Crazy Horse), talking about how much this show means to them, and then the film launches into the 2005 Nashville concert where Young premiered the songs from his latest album, Prairie Wind. Being a devoted fan, I picked up (okay, I downloaded) Prairie Wind when it was released, and there's no way around it: It's a mediocre album with one or two good songs at best. And this movie shows Young and company performing said album start to finish, with the exception of the embarrassingly bad song about Elvis. (As a reward for sitting through 50 minutes of close-ups of steel guitar solos and slow zooms on backup singers, we're treated to 10 greatest hits as an encore—but there's nothing onscreen that wouldn't come across on a live CD.)
True, this is Jonathan Demme's first concert film since the Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense, one of the greatest live music movies ever. But Stop Making Sense was a visual film—with amazing slideshows, props, and a singer who pioneered the post-punk spaz out. Heart of Gold? A bunch of old dudes standing in one place, singing harmony.
If you desperately feel the need to see Mr. Young on celluloid, you'd do better to track down Jim Jarmusch's 1997 documentary about Young, Year of the Horse. Unlike Heart of Gold, it's a film that's actually enjoyable to watch.