Hank Williams Sr. was a true legend of country music whose meteoric rise to fame and fortune in the early 1950s came crashing down with his untimely death at age 29. Tom Hiddleston plays the iconic crooner who battle with addictions, mainly alcohol, and his inner demons in “I Saw the Light.”
I appreciate Tom Hiddleston and the solid performance he gives as the volatile singer who left his imprint on country music over 60 years ago and it still runs strong today. The actor does all of his own singing in “I Saw the Light” and he is impressive in capturing the nuance and style of Williams and his music.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the film rests on Hiddleston’s shoulders as the supporting characters, with the exception of Elizabeth Olson as the singer’s wife Audrey Mae who comes closest to a fully developed character, are so poorly drawn they blend into the background.
One thing that a bio-pic needs to do is to draw you into the subject character and earn your sympathy. By the end of “I Saw the Light” I found little such sympathy for a self-destructive artist responsible for his own demise. I give it a C.
In post-WWII Alabama, a young singer/songwriter, Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston, "Crimson Peak"), wasn't content with his early morning show on Montgomery's WSFA radio station. He wanted to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. With the help of producer/publisher Fred Rose (Bradley Whitford, "The Cabin in the Woods"), he recorded his first single, his addiction to booze and women informing his songs, but by the time he made it to the Opry, Williams' life was in a downward spiral in "I Saw the Light."
British actor Hiddleston not only looks like Williams, he does a good job imitating him, singing every note heard in the film, but writer/director Marc Abraham ("Flash of Genius"), adapting Colin Escott's biography, utterly fails to make us care about the man, ticking off a timeline of events with no observations on what made the man tick. One can sympathize with New York journalist James Dolan (David Krumholtz, "Hail, Caesar!") who tells Williams he's 'looking for insights' only to come up blank - he may of well been interviewing this film's director.
The movie is a real missed opportunity, Hank Williams being one of the first superstars of the American music scene, a 'rock star' who burned brightly, dying at the age of twenty-nine. We see him marrying the not-quite-divorced Audrey Mae (Elizabeth Olsen, "Martha Marcy May Marlene") in a Texaco Station, their honeymoon bliss worn down by Hank's support of her questionable singing talent, his mother Lillie's (Cherry Jones, "Signs") disapproval and Audrey's own ambitions. His band, the Drifting Cowboys, are fed up but stand by their man, although none of them ever come into focus here.
As Hank records, hits the road and begins to miss shows, hitting the bottle more and more, we get hints of severe back pain (Williams suffered from spina bifida), but nothing to link it to his self-medication. There's an affair with Bobbie Jett (Wrenn Schmidt, "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi"), whose pregnancy doesn't deem her marriageable in Williams's eyes, before he moves on to another not-quite-divorced woman, Billie Jean (Maddie Hasson, "God Bless America"), whom he steals away from a bandmate. Both Olsen and Schmidt somehow manage to create real women on screen, but Hasson registers as little more than a pout. Whitford acts as occasional narrator, but his character within the film is as shallow as the next. Musical numbers, which should fire the film to life, lack dynamism. Closing credits are accompanied by footage of Williams's funeral which provide the only sense of how important the man really was.
"I Saw the Light" is like having a conversation with an ADD person, flitting from one half-finished thought to the next. Williams, and Hiddleston, deserved better.
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