Another year, another musical biopic. Last year we had Love and Mercy (The Beach Boys) and the rather well made Straight Outta Compton (N.W.A.). Now for something more classic, folk and country singer Hank Williams in I Saw The Light.
I Saw The Light stars Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen and Cherry Jones and is written and directed by Marc Abraham. The film follows the real-life story of Hank Williams, a folk and country singer from Alabama, his sudden rise to fame and his death at the age of 29.
Tom Hiddleston was the reason I was interested in seeing I Saw The Light. After his phenomenal performance in High-Rise and rumours that he may be the next James Bond, I’m intent on watching any film knowing he’s in it. Sadly though, I Saw The Light is one of the films I should have probably skipped. Hiddleston mostly shines (even with a ridiculous Southern accent) but everyone around him is either boring or forgettable. Elizabeth Olsen comes on screen now and again to be passive-aggressive towards Hiddleston, skipping between showering her love over him and then arguing with him.
I can attribute most of the problems to the story. It’s too unfocused. We start with Williams first touring around small clubs, playing on radio before finding his big break. It jumps all over the place and despite getting time stamps counting the years I was mostly lost as to where it was in William’s life. It feels more like a highlight reel of his defining moments rather than a full story, only for people who know his life and want to see Hiddleston try and find his way through it.
The film tries to hit all of William’s major points in his life, but even at two hours it feels rushed. Hiddelston downs one beer at breakfast and suddenly he’s a alcoholic. He takes a couple of pills on the road and snorts a couple of lines in a single scene and now he’s a drug addict. We see one woman leaving his hotel room in the entire films and he’s a compulsive cheater. If like me, you didn’t know Hank Williams’ story before you watched I Saw The Light, then you’d probably be completely lost as to what was going on.
I Saw The Light tries to fit in Amy style “talking head” interviews, filled with actors as the real life people who knew Williams. It’s an interesting mechanic for telling the story, but once again it’s under-used. We get a couple in the beginning, before a long dry spell and then another two near the end. If it had dispersed them throughout, it would have been an interesting feature, and if it had used more people, Williams’ wife, his children, his mother rather than just a couple of music record executives, we would have been able to get a nice side-view into his life. The newsreel footage of his tours and his funeral back in Alabama is used well and ends the film fittingly.
The saving grace is the music. Hiddleston sings and plays guitar in all of the concert sections and even though these are the best moments of the film, looking back they just feel wasted. You could have the exact same experience as watching I Saw The Light as listening to a Hank Williams best-of CD at home. You would get the best part of the film minus all of the things that don’t make the film work or bring it down to a much lower level.
In summary, I Saw The Light was just plain boring. You might get some enjoyment if you’re a Hank Williams fan or you know a lot about his personal life as you can fill in the blanks, but for everyone else, you can miss this one.
Score: 3/10 Hiddleston and the songs keep it from getting any lower.