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Set in 1994, Country Gold stars Mickey Reece as an up-and-coming country music superstar.Play It Cool LLC

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  • Country Gold
  • Directed by Mickey Reece
  • Written by Mickey Reece and John Selvidge
  • Starring Ben Hall, Mickey Reece
  • Classification unrated; 82 minutes
  • Opens in Montreal at the Fantasia International Film Festival, July 21; Toronto’s Revue Cinema, July 26

Critic’s pick

In the thoughtful, offbeat dark comedy Country Gold, a despondent, down-and-out twang-music legend laments the way pop artists are treated. He just wants to make people feel better, but he feels unwanted now by fans and the music industry. “After tomorrow,” he says, “they’ll have to find somebody else to devour.”

The film is director Mickey Reece’s Lynchian love letter to the late George Jones, an iconic country and western crooner and self-destructive boozer known for such chart-toppers as 1980′s He Stopped Loving Her Today. The film is set in 1995. Jones (intriguingly played by Ben Hall) is a physically spent, emotionally beleaguered has-been. His plan is to have himself cryogenically frozen, then reawakened when all the people he’s hurt are dead.

He doesn’t want to face his regrets, he wants to outlive them.

Playing opposite Hall and his crusty version of Jones is Oklahoma writer-director Reece himself, portraying a young country star who counts Jones as his hero. He’s Troyal, a pudgy, self-styled good ol’ boy, also from Oklahoma. He sometimes wears a white cowboy hat, sometimes a black one, and is a thinly veiled Garth Brooks – so thinly veiled as to be translucent. I have no idea how the real-life Garth Brooks walks and talks, but Reece plays him like any number of inappropriately cocky Danny McBride characters from his HBO comedies Eastbound & Down, Vice Principals and The Righteous Gemstones.

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Ben Hall as country music legend George Jones in Country Gold.Play It Cool LLC

When Troyal receives a letter summoning him to meet Jones in Nashville, our weird story begins. No one tells Troyal about the possible pitfalls of meeting one’s hero.

Country Gold is shot in black and white, adding a level of poignancy to a peculiar and occasionally whimsical film that should not be dismissed as unserious. A flashback scene imagines Jones working for the FBI. It could be an allusion to Elvis Presley’s infamous journey to the White House to meet Richard Nixon and offer his services as “federal agent at large.” Certainly Reece would be familiar with that piece of oddball Americana: His Alien from 2017 is about Presley.

We can look at Country Gold as a spiritual successor to Alien. They are both meditations on the paradox of celebrity and the anxieties of artists. In the earlier film, it is Elvis who is in existential crisis; here, it is Jones.

“What kind of songwriter am I when I can’t even stand my own songs?” Jones wonders. Later he fires a pistol in front of young woman he’s with. “Not bad for an old guy,” he says proudly. She squeals. Read into that what you will.

In the end, Troyal figures out what Jones possesses (and what he himself does not). “You know, you can hear it in his songs, but coming face to face with him, that’s when you really realize he’s in pain.”

It’s the tortured artist trope, handled in unexpected ways. Good guys wear white hats, but great heroes carry great burdens.

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