Director: Marc Abraham
Cast: Tom Hiddletson, Elizabeth Olsen, Cherry Jones and David Krumholtz
Running Time: 124 minutes
Release Date: May 6th
Anybody familiar with the country music compilation, ’Hank Williams: 40 Greatest Hits’ will undoubtedly be aware of its rich contents brought to life by Hiram King Williams, AKA Hank. His ability to craft short, but profoundly emotive honky-tonk hits managed to earn him recognition as a true pioneer of 20th century mainstream folk. Yet, while his skill still garners him much acclaim, one can often overlook the timeframe in which he managed to compose these works of heartbreak, rage and rebellion. Dead at the age of twenty nine, but stunningly prolific in the sixteen years prior, his intense devotion to being taken seriously, an uncompromisingly free-spirited artist wore his body to a tatter. Furthermore, his sincerity insured that the body of work would remain as relevant as it was in the 40’s and early 50’s, having dated only in terms of the quality of those recordings.
Unfortunately though, while he remains a beacon of country-western, his songs frequently performed by popular mainstream bluegrass and Americana acts, the name Hank Williams itself has faded somewhat as an influence on younger artists. So, the time seems ripe for a biopic, a work which can shine both a light on his life as a writer, and equally on the extreme lifestyle he put himself through to be seen as a credible folk singer. I Saw the Light is such a work, written and directed by co-producer of The Commitments, Marc Abraham.
Starring Tom Hiddelston as Williams, Elizabeth Olsen as his first wife and manager Audrey Sheppard, and Maddie Hasson as Billie Jean, his second wife, I Saw the Light largely focuses on Wiliiams’ brief six years in the spotlight, before his passing in the backseat of a car en route to a show on January 1st 1953. Frank in its depiction of his persistent battles with alcoholism, and his proclivity for womanizing, but equally, of his reluctance to sell himself out, battling to remain his own person, Abraham and Hiddleston manage to capture the rock ‘n’ roll renegade persona quite well. He was a rebel, and indeed, certain facets of this life were attractive when viewed in hindsight, but his choice also came at a price, paid by those around him. That honesty needed to be stressed and Williams himself would likely approve of the grit conveyed by Hiddleston in his effort to dissect the myth, revealing the man underneath.
However, while Hiddleston’s performance off-stage succeeds in achieving this feat, the man on-stage appears to have been diluted a tad excessively. The power of Williams as a singer and recording artist is the abrasive, almost rusty voice. This seems to have been polished a little too much, to the extent that I Saw the Light fails to reach its full potential. Hiddleston may look the part, and can certainly convey the unsympathetic side of Williams’ well, but musically his crooning is too smooth to match the standard one would expect.
On top of this, whilst the film can deliver a good story, and definitely, a powerfully heartbreaking climax, capable of producing tears in showing the passion he inspired in his listeners, the plot meanders significantly during the second act, the focus almost lost by the time we reach the finale. A thorough edit could have done this the world of good, but for all of its flaws, I Saw the Light manages to perform one task startlingly well, and that is the fact it strikes awe in viewers as they look upon the work of Williams, understanding fully the context it was created within.