Tuesday, April 5, 2016



STARS: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Cherry Jones, Wren Schmidt, Maddie Hasson, Bradley Whitford

DIRECTOR: Marc Abraham
GENRE: Bio-pic

My standard line with Jill whenever she wants to drag me to a bio-pic of a famous person is: I know how it came out. Meaning that I, like most, am familiar with the subject's life, and don't really care to sit through a retelling that plays it loose with the facts for the sake of creating a more compelling story (which most of them do).

In I Saw The Light, director Marc Abraham has chosen to tell a LESS compelling story of the life and times of country music icon Hank Williams--playing down his subject's glory in order to hone in on his pain. In his brief tenure, Hank Williams had 35 songs that were on the country music top ten charts--eleven of them shooting to number one! "Your Cheatin' Heart," for one, has been covered by too many artists to count. But the music is given short shrift. We see Hank (Tom Hiddleston) in a few stage performances--and the music sounds good--but that's the only hint we get of the prolific creative genius the man possessed.

I understand that Abrahams is trying to tell a more personal story--of Hank Williams' struggles with the demons of alcoholism and his up and down relationships with women--but these are often the unfortunate side-effects of unfettered brilliance. There are no fist-pumping inspirational moments here, and you know ol' Hank must have had a few. Instead, I Saw The Light is an unrelenting portrait of an individual bent on self-destruction. The gloomy inevitability of it is what had me glancing at my watch about half way through.

Part of the problem is roots. Tom Hiddleston is a good enough singer, but he's British, and his attempts to master Hank Williams' trademark twang yield mixed results. That's a difficult assignment, unless you come from where Hank came from, and I'm not referring solely to geography. Fortunately for Hiddleston, his acting--the way he inhabits the character--is what shines here. It also helps that he's pretty much of a physical dead-ringer for his subject.

Elizabeth Olsen, another fine actor, plays Williams' headstrong first wife, Audrey. The performances are not the problem. The problem with I Saw The Light is that we are subjected to too much of the gloom of Hank Williams' story, and not enough of the light.

Grade:  C

Before going to see I Saw The Light,I started thinking about all the Brits who've played famous Americans: David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King in Selma, Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon in Nixon, Christian Bale as money mogul Michael Burry in The Big Short. And let's not forget about famous American comic book characters. Who's the latest Superman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Henry Cavill. A Brit, of course!

Granted Tom Hiddleston is the spitting image of Hank Williams which works in his favor. His tall lanky build looks delicious in those hokey cowboy outfits and rakish Stetson. Hey! When you think about it, we have a living country legend, as prolific as Williams was, who's Australian: Keith Urban. (Go figure!)

But the movie was a definite letdown. I was expecting more drama, i.e. bar fights, drunken rages, a sex scandal here and there. What I got instead was a mini concert of Williams' hits. Enjoyable, yes. But those twangy tunes don't make up for a complete lack of conflict. For me, the biggest shocker came at the end of the film when I learned that Hank Williams was only 29 when he died.

I wish I had liked it more. But I'd say you're better off buying a used CD of his biggest hits. Some really marvelous lyrics there!

Grade: C -

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