Country Strong opens with the baritone vocals of Garrett Hedlund the young actor with no previous singing experience. As he sings the Merle Haggard classic 'Silver Wings' you realize he is blessed with a voice male country singers would die for. kris kristofferson mixed with Randy Travis and some Townes Van Zandt thrown in. Apparently Hedland had never played guitar before and did not want to use a 'hand model' strumming away. He spent time learning and honing his voice and playing.
Aside from Tim McGraw (previously played Hedlund's father in Friday Night Lights) who is one of Nashville's country superstars along with his wife Faith Hill, it's clear from interviews that none of the main cast had a country music background. Even Shana Feste does not talk about a love of country music. This makes the movie even more surprising.
Leighton Meester's character works less well. She is sweet but it's hard to picture her in the role of aspiring country singer. She sounds less convincing vocally than the others, a kind of pop-voice.
As the film develops, you feel the pain of Kelly Canter (Paltrow). It may be a familiar story of alcohol abuse and 'demons' but there is a twist. Canter fell off stage and lost the child she was carrying with her husband played by Tim McGraw. She had a high blood-alcohol level. Paltrow learned to sing and play guitar and the result is the most pitch perfect country music voice.
'Country Strong' the title track is a beautiful, warm and inspirational track that Paltrow sang live at the CMA Awards in Nashville, 2010. She bowled over the audience and any potential critics.
It's an uplifting, impeccably acted performance by the 4 leading actors. The only sadness is - why are there not more movies that combine country music with a Hollywood performance?