Tuesday, April 5, 2016
STARS: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Cherry Jones, Wren Schmidt, Maddie Hasson, Bradley Whitford
DIRECTOR: Marc Abraham
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.