Vague Visages’ Country Gold review contains minor spoilers. Mickey Reece’s 2022 movie stars himself, Ben Hall and Laurie Cummings. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Country Gold is a major improvement upon Mickey Reece’s two previous features, Climate of the Hunter (2019) and Agnes (2021). The American filmmaker stars as Troyal Brooks, a country music singer who tries to impress the legendary George Jones (Ben Hall) during a fateful night in 1994 Nashville. Reece utilizes pop culture references as his secret sauce. He doesn’t try to fool the audience, but rather ensures that viewers appreciate the sizzle. For example, the protagonist looks almost exactly like 90s-era Garth Brooks (who is from Reece’s native Oklahoma). He also talks like Eastbound & Down’s Kenny Powers (Danny McBride), both with his character’s speaking cadence and comedic timing. Troyal dreams big like Boogie Nights’ Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) and Raging Bull’s Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), evidenced by a telling dressing room scene. But can he actually sing? And is the good ol’ boy routine authentic? Reece, a prolific indie filmmaker, seemingly addresses his own existential concerns through a sturdy central performance.
Reece’s pop culture references don’t entirely work because of the 1994 setting. Eastbound & Down didn’t release until 2009, which means that the writer-director lifted Kenny Powers’ mannerisms for stylistic and comedic purposes. That’s fine, even if such an unoriginal approach may irk viewers in the know. With a present-day narrative featuring a different legend, one could argue that the protagonist actually models himself after Powers. But given that Troyal’s look is clearly inspired by the aforementioned Brooks, Reece likely anticipated that his loyal fanbase would identify the obvious. And so context is indeed crucial when assessing the filmmaker’s work. Reece’s previous two movies don’t quite pop with aesthetic flair, but Country Gold is tonally consistent and innovative; a stripped-down tale about broken dreams and bruised egos.
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Reece functions as a barstool poet with Country Gold. His characters boast and philosophize like typical good ol’ boys, and yet there’s substance in the dialogue. If the first act feels like too much Eastbound & Down, the second act vibe shift brings out the humanity of both Troyan and George. Real cowboys will appreciate a discussion about the proper way to cook a steak; however, those same people may not catch a low-key joke about the protagonist’s preference for light beer. Much like Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, Troyan is a walking contradiction — half truth, half fiction — a man whose faux diction betrays his behavior.
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Country Gold’s script creates big performance moments for Hall. George’s lust for life aligns with Troyan’s perspective; his despondency leads to the film’s narrative twist. Hall offers a more nuanced character interpretation than Michael Shannon in Showtime’s 2022 limited series George & Tammy. His Jones is more bitter and more thoughtful. He doesn’t just drink and snarl during expositional scenes. Country Gold’s George is like a vacationing vampire who just wants to suck blood from an easy target. And so Reece’s background in the horror genre benefits several scenes about legacy and human survival.
There’s a sense of dread in Country Gold that reminds me of Roberto Bolaño’s 1997 short story collection Last Evenings on Earth. This is perhaps due to several side characters who peel away Troyan’s personality like an onion, with a fantastical bathroom sequence comedically teasing a different career path for the protagonist. Liberal viewers will appreciate Reece’s thoughtfulness as a filmmaker, while conservatives will undoubtedly tip their cap to Country Gold’s overall authenticity.
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An economical film like Country Gold doesn’t necessarily need to expand the narrative beyond the main players, as it’s simply a tale about two men discussing their hopes and fears. But some of the female characters could’ve been utilized more effectively. Danielle Evon Ploeger is a striking actress who steals many scenes in Climate of the Hunter. In Country Gold, though, she only appears in a handful of scenes as Donna (above), a character who doesn’t do much beyond partying and giving handies to ol’ George. So, perhaps an additional 10 minutes of female character development would’ve rounded out the narrative even more, if only to showcase Ploeger’s talent through a musical performance or monologue.
Country Gold, with all its simplicity and overt homages, never feels boring. Reece seems invested in innovation. He’s an indie filmmaker who can take on any genre, one who probably won’t abandon his community for an MCU check. Country Gold ain’t a cinematic classic — it’s a throwback AM hit. Spin me some more 45s.
Country Gold released digitally on April 4, 2023 via Fandor.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.
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Categories: 2020s, 2023 Film Reviews, Comedy, Fantasy, Featured
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