Indie genre veteran Mickey Reece imagines a surreal meeting between country musicians

Country Gold

Source: Fantastia International Film Festival

‘Country Gold’

Dir: Mickey Reece. US. 2022. 82 mins

A melancholy meditation on art, ageing, regret and celebrity, Country Gold takes place during an increasingly surreal evening shared by a rising country star and his musical hero, real-life giant of the genre George Jones, although the setup ultimately proves more intriguing than the execution. Filmmaker Mickey Reece drapes the proceedings in dreamy black-and-white, a visual strategy that suggests that the unfolding events occur in some parallel universe, one that resembles ours in certain ways but is capable of drifting off into the fantastical at a moment’s notice. The mix of deadpan oddity, showbiz satire and genuine pathos is inviting without ever fully connecting.

What’s potentially entrancing about Country Gold is that it transcends the ordinary, crafting a fanciful new reality

Reece (Climate Of The Hunter, Agnes) is a veteran of the Fantasia Film Festival, where his latest premieres. Joined by frequent collaborator Ben Hall, who portrays the ornery, reflective Jones, the director and costar looks to build on his previous pictures’ cult following, although Country Gold is such a proudly idiosyncratic creation that it won’t automatically appeal to hardcore fans of Jones or country music. Modest theatrical play seems likely.

Country Gold takes place in 1994, introducing us to Troyal Brux (played by Reece), a fictional country singer from Oklahoma who’s starting to dominate the charts. Billing himself as an earnest everyman with a beautiful wife and photogenic children, he’s thrilled to receive an invitation to dinner from the legendary George Jones (Hall). But after Brux travels to Nashville to meet his idol, the weathered icon greets him with shocking news: Jones will be cryogenically freezing himself in the morning, wanting his last night to be spent with this up-and-comer.

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The film has fun concocting this invented scenario, lightly mocking some of the cliches of country music while imagining what this occasionally contentious encounter would be like. (Reece worked in a similar vein for 2017’s Mickey Reece’s Alien, which was a fictionalised glimpse into Elvis Presley’s relationship with wife Priscilla.) The reveal of Jones’ ulterior motive gives the picture, with its offbeat sense of humour and striking monochrome look, an extra jolt of unpredictability. 

Unfortunately, neither character is especially compelling, with this meeting of two generations of country stars surprisingly underwhelming. There’s an overarching notion that Brux represents a new, watered-down version of country that lacks the authenticity and macho swagger of Jones’ era — that the music has sold its soul by gaining mainstream acceptability — but Country Gold doesn’t do enough to develop this idea. (As Troyal’s last name suggests, the character is meant to be a stand-in for Garth Brooks, a megastar of the 1990s who gave country a slick pop sheen.)

Instead, the film sends the characters on an odyssey fuelled by drugs, beautiful women, self-loathing and random asides. (Jones brags to the younger man about some of his truly bizarre misadventures, including helping the FBI in a sting operation, which are presented in matter-of-fact flashbacks, no matter how preposterous these tall tales might be.) 

Reece plays Brux as an insecure star who initially resists Jones’ suggestion that they have a debaucherous night out, eventually relenting and giving cocaine a try. But Country Gold fails to become a memorably unhinged evening, nor does the dynamic between Brux and Jones grow more fascinating as the evening goes on. The possibility of sex and danger hangs over the narrative — there’s no shortage of women who want to sleep with both men — but the film never gets particularly freaky. Even when the film slips in a random trippy non sequitur — for instance, Brux talks to a stranger in the bathroom who ominously warns of the upcoming Y2K crisis — the impact is frustratingly muted. 

Hall doesn’t necessarily resemble Jones, nor is he meant to, but the actor does embody the barrel-knuckle bluntness of the musician’s body of work. That said, because Country Gold doesn’t spend much time digging into the character’s complexity, Hall mostly plays an attitude, with Jones’ later emotional outpouring about the limitations of a legacy hinting at what could have been explored in greater detail.

The beauty of country music is its ability to turn common experiences into indelible anthems. What’s potentially entrancing about Country Gold is that it transcends the ordinary, crafting a fanciful new reality where anything could happen — sadly, though, not enough worthwhile does.

Production company: Betmar-Heliand

Contact: Zac Locke, executive producer 

Producer: Kassie Gann

Screenplay: Mickey Reece and John Selvidge

Cinematography: Samuel Calvin

Production design: Kaitlyn Shelby

Editing: Mickey Reece

Music: Nicholas Poss

Main cast: Ben Hall, Mickey Reece