A mess from start to finish, I Saw The Light tries to do way too much and tells us all too little.
Tom Hiddleston’s Hank Williams biopic has one saving grace and that’s its lead. Hiddleston is superb in every scene, not least of all in the frequent musical interludes. A cold open on his crooning silhouette begs us to accept the English actor as the American music legend. Proving he’s more than a glorified karaoke star at a surprise live performance in Nashville last year, Hiddleston stares straight at us as if he were giving it his all for the most important audition of his life. There’s a hell of a set of pipes on the man, and he passes.
Whether clashing with his producers, goading a heckler or gleefully watching as a garage door goes up and down, you won’t be able to take your eyes off Hiddleston, nor Elizabeth Olsen as William’s partner Audrey, stirring throughout.
And the film goes downhill from there. The nonsensical addition of a narrator in the form of Fred Rose (The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford) is drastically at odds with the tone and pace, or what there is of it, too proffering information we can largely infer from what’s already happened and not telling us what a less-than-familiar and prospective Williams convert really would like to know.
There’s no real cognizance until far too late in the film of the tantamount significance of the Grand Ole Opry to country music and Williams’ career – the legend of the man and that particular stage being irrevocably intertwined, nor its ongoing significance as a launch-pad and stalwart of the genre. The film jumps between different stages in his life – one minute he’s struggling to make it, the next he’s a huge star, and suddenly he’s at an entirely different junction. The sporadic entrances of his mother whenever it’s convenient to the plot are jarring almost above all else, only one aspect of the film calling out for a drastic re-write.
Assuming that the audience are already largely familiar with Williams, anyone not au fait with the icon will struggle to comprehend from this biopic the meteoric rise over a few short years of the country music sensation who belted out thirty-five Top Ten singles and eleven Number Ones, nor the continuing distinction afforded Williams in the field.
Falling foul of the trap which snared The Iron Lady, amongst others, Director/Writer Marc Abraham tries to cover all too much of Williams’ life, according almost none of it due diligence. Crying out for the type of treatment witnessed in Walk the Line or the more recent Love and Mercy, aside from Hiddleston’s excellent renditions there’s little you will learn or enjoy in I Saw the Light.
I Saw the Light is screening at the Sydney Film Festival on Sunday 12 June – for tickets head to the Festival website