Have you heard about the crazy night when Garth Brooks went to Nashville to spend one crazy night on the town with George Jones? No? Well, that might be because it never happened. Or, maybe it did. There is no real way to verify if that night ever occurred, but that lack of truthfulness did not hold back director, co-writer and star Mickey Reece from making a movie about it.
Country Gold never says specifically that Reece is playing Brooks, but he is playing him in all but name. And even then, his character goes by “Troyal,” Brooks’ birth name, which tosses out any possible doubt of the on-screen country artist’s real-life inspiration.
In this version of Troyal’s life, he is bored and uninspired. It’s 1994 and his records are outselling Madonna, but he can barely fake his way through what is likely a highly-paid beer commercial gig. When a letter arrives at home from George Jones, Troyal decides not to do another fiscally indulgent concert in Dallas and instead heads to Nashville for the night. He has an idol to worship.
Jones (Ben Hall) turns out to be a lot different than Brooks thought he would be. When they first meet over a daily fancy steak dinner, Jones is rough around the edges and not especially impressed by the younger country star’s animated stories or humble bragging. When George tells Troyal his real reason for reaching out in his letter, Country Gold goes from unlikely to downright hypothetical.
The men head to a honky-tonk to relax, drink and get to know one another a bit better. A good deal of cocaine and a Chris Gaines hit-tip in the bar set the men in the right direction for a bit more debauchery than Traylor intended. Hotel rooms, pretty women, loaded guns and the FBI are only a few of the things these two crazy crooners get into over the course of this one long night.
Even with all of this plot going on in Country Gold, what happens is not nearly as important as experiencing how it happens. The film is in dramatic black and white, which makes it all feel a little dreamier than if it were blazing in full color. It feels nostalgic and important, though what it is yearning for is never quite clear. The dialogue in Country Gold is snippy, smart and fast-paced. It is never difficult to follow, but it does roll along at a rate that has a lot to say and not a lot of time to say it. The men might not be the fest-bonded pair Troyal hoped they would be, but this distance never stops them from trying to get to know one another and find some sort of common ground to build that friendship upon.
Country Gold also does an incredible job of making these two fictionalized musical titans feel like fully realized characters. Jones’ callous manner is a bit showy, but Reece as Troyal brings a meekness to the character. Troyal practices meeting new people in the mirror to help calm nerves. He is a bit awkward, hesitant for others to figure out that he is not as much of a partier as they might think. He feels like everyone who has ever wandered into a party only to find out that they don’t know anyone and everyone else there is operating on a different level altogether.
Reece also has a little fun showing off his cinematic literacy and media obsessions. The film itself is shot incredibly well—the framing, editing, music and acting are all confident—and never fully tattles on its micro budget. On top of that, the characters are always talking about television or movies: Star Trek: Next Generation and Jurassic Park do not merely get throwaway references, they get extended passionate discussions. These have been thought about at length and within the lives of the characters in the film; it just goes to show that each one of them is far more than just a drunkard or partier.
Country Gold is a cozy, easy way to get to know two characters inside and out. Troyal and Jones’ vulnerability and emotional tug-of-war is what makes the story great, regardless of if its narrative actually ever happened. Country Gold’s success does not hang upon fact-checking, but from this feeling of realness. And who is to say that “historically accurate” films do not take similar liberties when recreating dialogue from recollections or archives? Authenticity has a time and a place, but even without it, Reece creates a wonderful cinematic experience.
Director: Mickey Reece
Writer: Mickey Reece, John Selvidge
Stars: Ginger Gilmartin, Ben Hall, Colleen Elizabeth Miller, Mickey Reese
Release Date: July 21, 2022 (Fantasia Film Festival)
Deirdre Crimmins is a Chicago-based film critic who lives with two black cats, and her eternal optimism that the next film she watches might be her new favorite. She wrote her Master’s thesis on George Romero and still loves a good musical.