I Saw the Light
Celebrity biopics have become a dime a dozen recently, with the likes of Miles Davis and NWA having their stories appear on screens in Miles Ahead and Straight Outta Compton respectively. Country has been tackled masterfully in this genre with the tale of Johnny Cash in 2005’s Walk The Line, now it’s Hank Williams’ turn to get the cinematic treatment.
I Saw The Light is the second foray into directing by Marc Abraham (Flash of Genius) and stars Tom Hiddleston as the country legend, Hank Williams, following his whirlwind rise to fame and how he coped with newfound stardom.
As with most biopics, the lines between fact and fiction can be blurred at best. In the case of I Saw The Light, it goes to great depths in order to paint a respectable image of Williams. Yet over the course of the films’ nearly two hour run time, it would appear that his short life boiled down to alcoholism and a string of sordid marriages; peppered with the occasional song of his blues.
The cinematography of the film stands out as a highlight, with the roaring plains of the South being captured in all their stark intensity and the spliced news footage acting as a vehicle for moving throughout the chronology of his life. It’s just a shame that everything else is lackluster at best.
Based upon Hank Williams: The Biography, the film takes a fragmented and rather unfocused approach to its narrative. As such, events become blurred and the coming and going of the supposed significant characters that shape his life fail to make an impact on the story, let alone on the audience. The role of his on and off again wife, Audrey Sheppard (Elizabeth Olsen), is delivered with the charismatic bitterness of a woman scorned and fulfills the necessities of the narrative. But at the same time, it feels incredibly superficial. With a cast that has a proven excellence on screen, it would appear that they are reigning in their talent for some unknown reason.
It is evident throughout that Hiddleston is trying his best to bring his A game to the role, with his impressive vocal talents being leant to perform many of Williams classics including Move It On Over and Hey, Good Lookin’. But a few scattered songs aren’t what make a great biopic. As a fellow Englishman, it’s great to see him trying something new in his acting career, but with the case of his portrayal of Williams it feels as if the role merely entailed adopting a Southern accent (albeit a convincing one) and putting on his best “woe is me alcoholic musician” act (less convincing). His chemistry with the supporting cast is solid yet the writing is rigid and lacks any sense of growth within the world we are being shown. His story is simple enough, a tortured artistic that slept around and made chart topping hits, but I feel like just the slightest bit of artistic license would elevate I Saw The Light into a far more insightful approach to Williams tragic life that could possibly have redefined the genre.
It would appear that Abraham has more talent as a film producer than as a director, as this muddled telling of Hank Williams story is the epitome of a rushed attempt at encapsulating the life of an American icon.