Before his untimely death at the age of 29, Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston) lived a turbulent life, filled with addiction, women and music. This look into his life shows his rise to fame, and his troubled personal life.
There is little doubt that Hank Williams not only was a huge star in his own right, but his style of music and the simplicity with which he told stories through music were huge influences on the world of popular music; a fact that is not explored throughout the film.
Tom Hiddleston does his best in the lead role as Hank Williams; there is little doubt that Hiddleston can sing, and often creates charming characters on screen, but it is in this dramatisation of an alcoholic and neglectful man that Hiddleston’s charm fails him. For I Saw The Light to work, the audience has to root for the lead character in some way, but Williams is shown on screen to be an alcoholic, an addict and verbally abusive, so the audience has no reason to care for this obviously talented singer. Elizabeth Olsen also tries her best as Williams’ first wife Audrey, but the screenplay cheats her as the character too quickly turns from infatuated newlywed to nagging harpy. As well as this, Olsen struggles with the Southern accent, often making it too chewy and unintelligible. The rest of the cast features Bradley Whitford, Cherry Jones, Maddie Hasson and David Krumholtz.
Marc Abraham’s screenplay lands the audience in at the middle of he story; with Audrey and Williams’ wedding, then spends the rest of the film’s 123 minute running time jumping from event to event, with little time spent in between. This means that Williams goes from being drunk to clean to drunk again, often within the space of minutes, and we never truly get a feel for the character and the nuances of his personality, as the film spends so much time trying to tell the story through events, rather than the story of the character. There is an attempt made to frame the story through dramatised interviews with record company heads, newsreel footage and home video shot by the characters, but this is used too infrequently to adequately give context to the story on screen.
As director, Marc Abrahams struggles with the pacing of the film, which feels languid throughout, and never seems to focus on the events that would give the audience a feel for any of the characters, meaning the film feels like a timeline of Williams’ achievements – including his marriages and illegitimate child – rather than an exploration of the person behind the music. In this way, I Saw The Light feels dull and by the numbers, as it does nothing to distinguish itself from any other biopic you care to name.
In all, I Saw the Light is a grim and badly paced tale of a disagreeable man behaving badly, while creating some of the most influential music of the last century. Hiddleston and Olsen try their best, but there is little spark between the two and the screenplay cuts them off at every turn, never giving them a chance to develop rounded characters.