I Saw the Light

Film, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
I Saw the Light

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Country crooner Hank Williams comes to life via a fully committed Tom Hiddleston.

There's only one thing anyone reading this review of the new Hank Williams biopic wants to know: can Tom Hiddleston (Loki from 'The Avengers'), a thoroughly decent and clearly very talented British performer who hasn't really been given the opportunity to push himself onscreen, really inhabit the dusty boots and oversized Stetson of this all-American country music icon, a man who made his living from tales of hardship, heartache and bitter redemption?

The answer - convincingly - is yes. Hiddleston's performance is gutsy and heartfelt, as playful and soulful as the best of Williams's songs. He may take flak from Hankophiles for refusing to do a straight-up impersonation, but that's their problem, not his. Hiddleston's surprisingly strong singing voice is a good few registers lower than Williams's high, lonesome warble, and not nearly as elastic. It doesn't hurt that he's backed (in all senses) by Elizabeth Olsen as Williams's first wife, aspiring singer Audrey, who he married in a gas station in 1944. Olsen gives the very definition of a supporting performance - there's never any doubt who the subject of the movie is - and Hiddleston's rangy, intense turn wouldn't work half so well without her emotional, irascible presence.  

But perhaps inevitably, the film as a whole doesn't stack up to its central performances. We're squarely in trad musical biopic territory here, complete with rags-to-riches narrative arc, marital strife, drink 'n' drug issues, montages of crackly black-and-white newsreel footage and awkward faux-interview interruptions from Bradley Whitford as Williams's manager Fred Rose, to fill in the backstory. The visuals are slick and prettified - all hazy Southern sunshine and backroad chic - while the opening-credits sequence, featuring Hiddleston crooning alone on stage, feels inappropriate and tacky.

The result is a film carried almost entirely by its lead actors, who lend a weight and spark that the drab script and trudging direction can't provide. Whether it'll lead to a surge in Williams-mania among the outsider-ish young women that constitute Hiddleston's fanbase remains to be seen, but we'd love to see him take this show on the road.

Details

Release details

Release date:
Friday May 6 2016
Duration:
123 mins

Cast and crew

Director:
Marc Abraham
Screenwriter:
Marc Abraham
Cast:
Tom Hiddleston
Elizabeth Olsen
David Krumholtz
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