When Walk The Line came out ten years ago, the lives of Johnny and June Carter Cash were celebrated in a truly great film that earned star Reese Witherspoon an Academy Award. As a major force in country and folk music over his sixteen year career, Hank Williams was an artist that deserved some of the same respect; and with Tom Hiddleston stepping into the role, things looked bright.
I Saw The Light follows the career of the legendary singer, opening with a grainy black and white documentary interview with Fred Rose, a songwriter who did a few songs with Williams. In a sort of clunky beginning exposition he sets up the first leg of our story, starting with Hank marrying his wife Audrey: at a gas station of all places. We then move to a bar show in Alabama where he gets into an altercation with a drunken audience member which vaguely sets up the alcohol addiction Hank Williams battled through.
The film loosely touches on the radio program that Hank and his band did weekly, as well as the tumultuous relationship between him and his wife over her desire to sing. The consensus was that she wasn’t good and it served to be a wedge between her and her husband, complicating their marriage considerably.
It’s very hard to summarize writer and director Marc Abraham’s vision of Hank Williams’ life because it’s a meandering mess of strung together scenes with no cohesion at all. What it ends up being is a dull mess that you can’t even begin to care about. The Hank Williams estate must be or should be completely unsatisfied with this utter failure of a film.
Hiddleston is the only bright point in this film, as his dedication to the role is completely admirable, even if nothing else showed up to support him. Elizabeth Olsen is only so-so as Audrey, very quickly being pushed to a supporting character near the middle of the second act. The love story is underfueled and gives us no reason to care about it’s outcome.
Aside from Hank and Audrey, all the characters come off as stock, some of them going nameless for the majority of the film. With the fleeting focus of every scene in this movie we have nobody but Hank Williams to latch onto and that’s a completely losing battle as poor Tom can only carry that so much.
I’m usually a big fan of music bio-pics and I initially thought this was an important story to tell. It’s clear that the producers didn’t see the importance of making a straight forward narrative movie and decided instead to give us the selective biography of a man they felt the vaguest appreciation for. This film wears the shame of mediocrity from the start. A one and a half out of five.