wed 21/08/2019

I Saw the Light | reviews, news & interviews

I Saw the Light

I Saw the Light

Darkness risible: Tom Hiddleston stars as Hank Williams in lacklustre biopic

Seeing the light: Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams

The sad, short life of country legend Hank Williams makes for a surpassingly dour biopic in I Saw the Light, which does at least prove that its protean star Tom Hiddleston can do a southern American twang and croon with the best of ‘em. If only the actor weren’t trapped in the feel-bad film of the season.

But as written and directed by Marc Abraham and broodingly shot by the great cameraman Dante Spinotti (LA Confidential, The Last of the Mohicans), the film wears Williams’s unlikeability like some perverse badge of honour, and even Hiddleston’s natural warmth can’t cosy the audience up to a character here seen to be embarked upon a joyless path toward self-destruction.

Picking up his story from the age of 21, which is to say eight years before his death, the film finds the Alabama-born “young heartthrob” Williams keen to get to Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry, having married (and later divorced) young. He and bride Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen, pictured below) are lauded in the press for leading “a model domestic life”, the reality of which consists of sniping and sharp words; she accuses her fast-rising husband of “crushing a person’s dream” even as she wants in on her share of the glory as well. A gun emerges but both characters live to see another day – and in Williams’s case second wife Billie Jean Jones (Maddie Hasson), albeit briefly.We hear from Williams’s early publisher Fred Rose (Bradley Whitford), in faux-interviews that recall Warren Beatty’s comparable strategy in the film Reds, though one might have wished for language a bit more elegant than “Ray wasn’t ready for what Hank was bringing” – the under-appreciated genius in evidence from the start.

Oddly for a film that stints on the details of Williams’s ascent to the big time – key sequences would appear to have been cut somewhere along the way – the film belabours its subject’s often wayward ways. “Lately, people see me comin’ [and] they want to cross the street,” we’re at one point informed, commentary to the effect that  “he didn’t give a damn if you liked him or not” served up alongside “he’s a real SOB but I think I love him”: that last remark there lest the audience tunes out.

The film in every way is lucky to have got Hiddleston on board. One only wonders what would have happened had the central role gone to someone whose own countenance is already as in-drawn and glowering as, say, Joaquin Phoenix, who starred in the superb Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line.

By contrast Hiddleston does as best he can to make light of the heavy weather the film insists upon throughout – there’s seemingly ceaseless chat about “hard times” – and brings some deft vocals to a musical back catalogue (“Lovesick Blues”, “Move It On Over” et al) that included 11 number one country & western singles and whose emotional vibrancy was in every way at odds with the pervasive gloom on view in I Saw the Light.

Overleaf: watch the trailer to I Saw the Light

The film wears Williams’s unlikeability like some perverse badge of honour

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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