Like most new movies released on Blu-ray, Sony Pictures’ Country Strong looks fantastic. The picture quality is perfect, and the sound is crystal clear. Colors are rich, without overtaking the picture, and the darks have depth, not being lost in the corners. The cast looks great, and every detail is easily seen. Even the heavy reds and blue during performances don’t distract, as they sometimes do, because there are enough hues mixed in to provide plenty of contrast.
My only complaint in either of those categories is that the musical performances were quite a bit louder than the sometimes mumbled dialogue, so it is necessary to keep the volume remote control handy. That is a problem I didn’t expect on modern home video, as advanced as sound mixing has become, and cannot recall any release with such drastic level changes I have experienced before. That being said, the music mixing is superb, and once you tone down the volume a little, you can really enjoy the harmonies. Perhaps the sound mixing was done by someone who really loved the music, admittedly an essential part of the film, and wanted to play it up.
Sadly, the film itself is not very good. It premiered to mixed reviews, and after watching it, I fall on the side claiming a low quality flick. I do not blame the actors. Gwyneth Paltrow does as much as she can with such an unlikable character who can’t even decide what she wants from one moment to the next. Her vocals are fine for the part. Garrett Hedlund and Tim McGraw face similar challenges, trying to make a pair of slightly creepy men who seem to care mainly about sex (Hedlund) and fame and fortune (McGraw) real human beings. They fail, but they’re putting real effort into it. Leighton Meester, who is trying to launch a music career alongside her acting one, has a beautiful voice, but is saddled with less than memorable songs.
The story is trite, and reminds me of a bad Lifetime movie. We do not need a four way love mess, with each man involved somehow with each woman. I’m a little surprised, because of the forever changing partners, they kept things strictly heterosexual, except that the target audience for this film is the moralistic heartland of our country, who enjoy country music, and even less people probably would have seen it had they crossed those lines. I am knocking neither mid-Westerners (I am one myself), nor country music fans (as both my parents are), as I respect high quality examples of both. Crazy Heart is one of my favorite movies of last year. Country Strong doesn’t achieve half the total package Crazy Heart had.
If you actually liked the movie, as I’m sure plenty of people did, as everyone’s tastes differ, you’ll love the plethora of extras that come with the Blu-ray disc. In fact, I am jealous some movies I like better don’t have half as much. Most of the basics are there, of course, including a handful of deleted scenes and subtitles for Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Strangely, a commentary track is absent.
Additionally, as you would expect from a film about music, there are a couple of music videos from Paltrow and Sara Evans and one extended musical performance of Paltrow singing “Shake That Thing”. An original ending gives you a different way things could have ended. The Blu-ray edition gives you three featurettes covering the costumes, songwriters, and cast. The menus are among the best I’ve seen, allowing easy scrolling while still watching the film. Along those lines, a movieIQ option is included that allows you to look at trivia while the movie is playing. Really, a treasure trove of riches.
As you may have gathered, I cannot recommend this purchase for the film itself, but the studio certainly did a good job of making an enjoyable, immersible experience for fans with the special features. If you liked Country Strong, the Blu-ray is a must have.
The Blu-ray and DVD versions of Country Strong will be released April 12th.