You don’t have to love country to enjoy the romance of the two legends “George and Tammy”
John Hillcoat is the director of a rather twisted fate. This Australian started out as a music video director, made a video for INXS for “Love (Is What I Say)” in the 1980s, and formed a friendship with Nick Cave. Cave starred in his feature debut Ghosts of Civil Death in 1988, and almost 20 years later he wrote The Proposal, an outstanding western that instantly gained cult status.
The collaboration continued with The World’s Drunkest County, and it looked like Hillcoat was about to enter the pantheon of heaven as Sam Peckinpah’s successor. However, the triumph did not happen, after the not very successful action movie “Three Nines” Hillcoat returned to music videos (in particular, for Massive Attack).
Now he has decided to return to film as a series director, who has been commissioned by Showtime for all six episodes of the biopic about country music legends George Jones and Tammy Wynette. “George and Tammy” opens with a suggestive title about George (Michael Shannon) going all out before meeting Tammy (Jessica Chastain). This is followed by an episode with the extraction of a drunken artist from the toilet. To keep his legs from giving way, his knees are wrapped with adhesive tape, but the performance is going great – the audience is delighted, Jones is habitually irresistible.
He meets his future wife when the producers organize a tour for Jones with Tammy and her husband Don Chapel (Pat Healey), who dreams of selling George some of his songs. Jones first allows Wynette to cut his hair, and then kidnaps his future partner right from a family dinner. Thus begins a great love story that lasted six years, which country fans in the US know more or less by heart. The latter circumstance has already played its role – the premiere episode of “George and Tammy” gathered 3.3 million viewers at the screens. This is an absolute record for almost five decades of the history of the Showtime channel.
The history of the musical legend is full of details of cowboy life: boots, hats, bolo ties, embroidered shirts. The main model is Walton Goggins (he plays guitarist and songwriter Earl Montgomery), who flaunts a new outfit in every scene. There is not a drop from the kitsch redundancy of the recent Elvis, although the action also takes place at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s. There is also no feigned drama of “Walk the Line”, where Johnny Cash played Joaquin Phoenix, similar in charisma to Shannon.
Hillcoat alternates episodes of absolute happiness (personal, creative, scenic) with scenes filled with darkness (there is an abusive husband, and scuffle, and electricity treatment). The bit where Jones takes Tammy right from under her husband’s nose is breathtaking, but both central characters remain too complex for pure melodrama. For a real dark drama, on the contrary, there is too much light and music itself – Shannon and Chastain performed all the numbers on their own.
These contrasts help Hillcoat build a deep and dynamic narrative that is gripping despite the canonicity of the plot. It is likely that in some other life this could have been a film about Vysotsky and Marina Vladi – Shannon, by the way, would have coped well with this role without a wax mask.