Shannon Mullins ‘19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Marc Abraham’s biographical film I Saw The Light tells the story of country music singer Hank Williams, played by Tom Hiddleston, his rise to fame, his disordered marriage to Audrey Williams (Elizabeth Olsen), and his sudden death at the age of twenty-nine. Hank Williams had eleven no. 1 singles in his six-year career and is considered one of the most influential American singers and songwriters of the 20th century. A biographical film comprehensively tells a person’s life story, or at least the most historically important years of their lives. This film completely fails to do so. Instead of telling the story of Williams’ musical genius, it focuses on his drunken faults. From one of the very first scenes, where Hiddleston is onstage quickly finishing a beer before he begins to sing, it is quite obvious that Williams’ struggle with addiction will be the central point of the film. Abraham definitely does not tiptoe around the fact that Williams was an alcoholic. He rushes into it and never loses momentum.
But that is roughly all we see. There is never any context to his life besides from his wrongdoings. Simple aspects to Williams’ story are not at all explained, such as his addiction to painkillers coinciding with his lifelong battle with spina bifida. Frankly the viewer really doesn’t get to know much about Hank Williams’ life at all, aside from the negative aspects and the occasional but very short-lived happier scenes between him and his wife. We never see him writing any music. We never see him progress as an artist. The film glosses over any intriguing moments of Williams’ life, giving his alcoholism the majority of the attention. This is not at all a proper character study and certainly doesn’t do Hank Williams justice for what he was – an extremely talented and influential musician.
As a whole the film simply feels dull and unsettling. The excessively imbalanced mix of good and bad events just doesn’t work. Instead Abraham dives right into the beginning of Williams’ descent, or at least that is what it was depicted as onscreen. Williams was also doing a lot of great things at this time, but the viewer never really gets to see that. In fact, it doesn’t even feel like a film. The events are all in chronological order, showing the location and year at the start of each major scene change, but there isn’t any context behind it and not really any plot. The film is just a bunch of awkward sequences that drag on, one after the other.
On a plus side, the cast gives excellent performances. It is obvious Hiddleston put in a great amount of effort to nail the look and sound of the singer. The speech dialect of Williams is captured nicely. Olsen does a great job in the film as well. The chemistry between Hiddleston and Olsen is impressive, and although it can be difficult to portray a person onscreen without seeming or sounding like a mimic, the two actors hold their own and provide great performances. However, when Olsen abruptly leaves the film about halfway through she takes with her all the chemistry that was keeping the film going.
Despite terrific performances on both Hiddleston and Olsen’s parts, the script does not give them enough to work with and fails to live up to its focus. All we see of the singer is an alcoholic who gets with a lot of women and does not necessarily show any respect for other people. For anyone who wanted to view an accurate telling of Hank Williams as a successful musician despite his early death, this is not the film to see.
Overall grade: C-
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