It’s very easy to sum up on my feelings on writer/director Marc Abraham’s Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light. It’s a mess. The life story of a guy that rose to fame and died as the result of a life of excess all within six years shouldn’t be this boring, but that’s the end result when you have a script that hits the highlights without much explanation to get us from point A to point B.
Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers) plays Williams. When the movie opens, he and his sweetheart Audrey (Avengers: Age of Ultron’s Elizabeth Olson, who in the last three years has made more high profile movies than her more famous sisters ever did) are getting married. Hank has had a little bit of success, but he’s still hosting a very early morning radio show on WSFA in Montgomery, Alabama.
The script weaves us in and out of three major themes:
- Hank Williams was addicted to everything.
- Hank and Audrey are in love for a bit and then not so much. Rinse and repeat.
- Hank really values being a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
I Saw the Light’s cast isn’t really so bad. Hiddleston manages to look and sound enough like Williams that you forget that he is actually from London. Olsen is as good as anyone could possibly be in the role of Audrey the way it is written. There isn’t a lot of depth to the character. We see her waffle between put-upon-wife and fierce, independent woman, but the character never really plants a flag in either world until she is written out of the script completely.
The real standout in the cast is Cherry Jones (Hulu's 11.22.63) as Hank’s mother Lillie. She is mean as hell to anyone not named Hank Williams. She is fun to watch and just about the only thing on screen that creates real sympathy for Audrey.
Whether or not the script or at least the idea for I Saw the Light has actually been making the rounds in Hollywood ever since I Walk the Line became an Oscar nominee, I don’t know. It certainly feels that way though. There is very little new here and there surely isn’t anything in the script that wasn’t expertly parodied in John C. Reilly’s 2007 comedy Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
This is a paint-by-numbers music biopic and it’s a shame, because as I said earlier, the headline of a guy that went from a nobody to the biggest country music star in the world to dead all in the span of six years should promise an interesting payoff. Maybe it could have been if it were in the hands of a director or screenwriter that is a true Williams fan. For all I know, Marc Abraham is, but this movie certainly doesn’t make it seem that way. It plays like the final project of a guy just had to finish a job so he could collect his paycheck.
Demetri Ravanos is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has reviewed movies for Raleigh and Company, Military1.com and The Alan Kabel Radio Network. He can be heard weekday mornings from 6-10 on "The Morning Show with Mike, Lauren and Demetri" on Buzz Sports Radio.