I Saw The Light Review

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.

Trumbo Review

I missed Trumbo in its first cinema run, but it luckily was on a late run back home. It was nominated in the 2016 Academy Awards, sadly not winning any though. Now that I’ve seen it, did it deserve the nominations, and should it have won instead?

Trumbo stars Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, John Goodman and Elle Fanning and is directed by Jay Roach. Set during the 1940s, the film follows the real life story of Dalton Trumbo (Cranston), who was blacklisted from writing scripts for Hollywood films. He starts to write under pseudonyms to continue working.

The films performances are alright. Bryan Cranston obviously owns every scene he is in as Dalton Trumbo. I’m not sure if it is worthy of an Academy Award nomination (Cranston was nominated in the Best Actor category) but nevertheless it’s a solid performance. Elle Fanning as Trumbo’s eldest daughter Nikola is also good, and the interactions between her and her on-screen father are great. Helen Mirren and John Goodman are chewing the scenery every time they are on screen, while Diane Lane is the complete opposite, as the quieter side of the Trumbo household.

The film mixes characters made up for the film and the people who were there at the time. Last year’s Suffragette also did this, but here it works a lot better. Suffragette‘s real life encounters sometimes felt quite forced, while here a lot of it blends together well. The casting department did a good job, as a lot of the people they chose look almost identical to the actors they are portraying, such as Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas or Michael Stuhlberg as Edward G. Robinson.

The script has some funny moments but I wish it had a bit more bite. I did laugh through several moments and Dalton Trumbo as a character has a way with words, confusing the authorities and making them look like fools when questioning him, but it leaves the rest of the film quite flat. Things are happening but not a lot of it is engaging. There is lots in the background, the civil rights movement, the Rosenberg’s, McCarthyism, but none of it explored at a much deeper level. I know that the film is focussing on Trumbo and the rest of the writers, but after a while it becomes repetitive just watching the same types of scenes play out over and over again. Trumbo just needed some variety.

The film also is incredibly long for the story it tells. Trumbo is over two hours, but it could easily be cut down to a ninety minute film. As I said before, too many scenes are repeated and some scenes just feel like padding for the sake of it. The film is set over several years as to hit all of Trumbo’s successes and failures, as well as his acceptance speech in 1970 at the WGA’s Laurel Award ceremony, but in between these moments, it falls below par.

Even though I do have problems with the story, it feels like something I should be interested in. As a Film Studies/Creative Writing student the film speaks to two things that I’m passionate about. Sadly, it’s not much more than an average film. If you watched Hail, Caesar! and were put off by the genre silliness of the Coen brothers, or you have a passionate interest in the story of the Hollywood Ten and America during that time, then Trumbo might be a film for you. To everyone else though, especially people who don’t know much about the Blacklist, this is one to miss.

Score: 6/10 Has some good moments and characters, but it’s length smothers it.