'Country Strong' seems like a two hour long mashup of country music videos. When the characters aren't singing on stage, they're doing something that's talked about in country songs, like cheating on their spouses, falling in love with the wrong person, or just drinking themselves to death. So, like many life-lamenting country songs, it's a real pick-me-up.
Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the world's most popular country singer. She's also what appears to be the Lindsay Lohan equivalent of the country singing world. The movie begins with her in rehab. She was put there, because she fell off of a stage during concert while she was drunk and pregnant. Now she's going to try and make her comeback. James Canter (Tim McGraw) is her husband, who's only looking out for the bottom line, rather than seeing if his wife is really okay. He checks her out of rehab and immediately books a comeback tour. Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) is a local country performer, who just so happens to work at the same rehab clinic Kelly has been staying at. The two have hit it off, but Beau is convinced Kelly has not yet recovered from her varying addictions. The cast of characters is rounded out by wide-eyed country starlet Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) who's been booked as Kelly's opening act for the tour.
Like so many other movies centered around original songs, the music take center stage. Paltrow trots out on stage and turns the entire movie into a live concert. Hedlund and Meester work well together on stage, belting out catchy country tunes to their hearts content. All the leads sing well-enough, but the problem here is that the music made for the movie is the main focus. Heck, even Paltrow has publicly announced her plans to actually break into the country singing business.
With the pop country tunes taking up most of the movie, the rest of the movie's "drama" seems like useless noise. Beau has apparently knocked boots with Kelly quite a few times, and Kelly has fallen for him. Beau also fancies Chiles, whose boots he's also knocked. Can't you just see this entire story being written into a country song?
The contrived relationship between supposed good guy Beau and the two popstars never seems genuine. Hedlund does his best Bad Blake impression, but it simply isn't enough. He isn't haggard enough to take seriously as a bonafied country singer, and he isn't debonair enough to pull off these two tricky relationships. He acts like he cares deeply for both of them, but how could he with so many boots a knockin'. The movie wants you to root for Beau, but he makes it far too easy to detest him. Even though he's Kelly's sponsor, trying to help her stay clean, he's feeding her habit and narcissism by being at her beck and call. He's become yet another reason for her to drink and get high, not a solution.
Either way, none of that really matters, because it seems 'Country Strong' was made for the express purpose of selling soundtracks rather than telling a worthwhile story.
Being a drama set in dimly lit bars and fluorescently lit dressing rooms, 'Country Strong' takes on a cooler palette. It's 1080p picture provided by Sony/Screen Gems uses an AVC encode to keep everything in line. Being a brand new movie, the picture has hardly any quibbles I can discuss.
I was pleasantly surprised by the visuals at Kelly's concerts. Strobe lights and constantly moving spotlights usually are followed closely by some minor blocking. I've seen it happen far too many times on concert Blu-rays, but here nothing of the sort happens. Colors are lively and rich. Fine detail is easy to pick out. The texture of Kelly's numerous sequined outfits seems like you can almost reach out an touch it, while Hedlund's scraggly beard harbors the same amount of detail I don't think you'll be begging to touch it. Blacks provide deep, nice shadows. Crushing never seems to cause much trouble.
This is an expected transfer for a new movie like this. There's nothing in here that will blow you away, but there aren't any hindering aspects to it either.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is all about the music. Nothing else really matters here. Most of the time you feel like you're watching a concert Blu-ray. Paltrow's vocals are piped through all five channels, while the bass lines of her songs beat through the sub woofer. Surrounds come alive as massive crowds cheer "Kelly, Kelly!". It's everything that fans of the soundtrack are hoping for.
Dialogue is produced audibly though the front and center channels. Hedlund mumbles a few of his lines, because he's a "real" country singer. Those lines get lost in the mix at times, but it's nothing the overly stress about. If you're buying this title just to hear the original songs composed for it, then you're in for a treat.
'Country Strong' stinks of a movie that was created just to sell CDs. The songs may be catchy, but the story and its archetypical characters just fall flat. It's hard to take Beau seriously as he acts like the strong good hero, but sleeps around with anyone willing to jump in his bed. Country fans will be happy with the music, but there's little else to this movie that requires any sort of involvement on the viewer's part. Just sit back and watch them sing. That's about all you can do. I recommend renting this one before purchasing.