Hank Williams lived the kind of hard and fast life that often fuels the country music he was such a giant of. His life was incredibly interesting and he was immensely talented; writing and performing such classics as "Move It On Over" and "Your Cheatin’ Heart", which turned him into a favorite on the Grand Ole Opry stage in the 1940s. His love life was tumultuous, his attitude ornery, and this will come as a shocker, but he was racked with personal demons that cut his life to a shockingly short 29 years of age. Williams' life should make for a gripping "fall from grace" Hollywood story, and yet I Saw the Light hits every single wrong note, failing to capture his genius or make his life seem worthy of the big screen.
The fault, however, does not lie with Tom Hiddleston, the popular Brit actor donning a believable country twang as Williams. Performing all of the songs himself, Hiddleston makes the wise decision not to try to emulate Williams' voice and does it his own way, which proves to be highly impressive. He embodies Williams' charisma that made audiences and many a woman love him, while also nailing the volatility that turned his career and marriage into a constant powder keg. But the film, written and directed by Marc Abraham (Flash of Genius) is sporadic and leaden. It's both agonizingly dull and frustratingly incomplete.
Williams' stormy personal and professional life are the focus here, with the two inextricably links to one another. Elizabeth Olsen plays Williams' firebrand of a wife, Audrey, who supports her husband's talent while also trying to muscle her way into the spotlight. The two fight and make up, usually on stage when performing with one another. The rocky nature of their relationship provides the soul for many of his hard-luck anthems. But the screenplay struggles to draw that connection despite this being a very paint-by-numbers look at Williams' story. There's the sense that Abraham was content to hit as many key moments as possible without making clear why they're relevant. We see his rise to fame, debut on the Opry stage, womanizing, descent into violent drunkenness, and finally divorce, but the line between the smooth talking Williams and the sloppy, dangerous mess we see towards the end is never clear. Part of the reason is Abraham's choppy editing which switches up styles (occasionally it resembles a documentary) for uncertain reasons and deprives the film of any sustained emotional connection. We also never really get a sense of why Williams' music resonated with so many people. What was it about him and what he had to say that was special?
The only time the film comes alive is during Hiddleston's impressive musical performances, or when he's side-by-side with Olsen. The Marvel alums make for a combustible duo that would be worthy of Hank and Audrey, but I Saw the Light lets them down at every turn.
Rating: 2 out of 5