I Saw the Light
Directed by Marc Abraham
Singer and songwriter Hank Williams rises to fame in the 1940s, but alcohol abuse and infidelity take a toll on his career and marriage to fellow musician Audrey Mae Williams.
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★★★★ review by Swartacus on Letterboxd
"Everyone has a little darkness in 'em"
I'm not sure why this film is getting such terrible reviews (16% on Rotten Tomatoes? What planet are you people on?), aside from a few minor pacing problems it is a very solid music biopic.
If you are going in expecting a cornball Oscar-baiting film like Ray or Walk the Line you are probably going to be disappointed.
This film is more in the vein of Oliver Stone's The Doors or Clint Eastwood's Charlie Parker biopic Bird. Tom Hiddleston completely immerses himself in the Hank Williams mystique, and quite frankly his performance blew me away. He nailed the singing, the badassery, the vulnerability, and the pain of the person most consider to be America's first Rock N Roll casualty.
When I was in my early 20s I spent a good many hours downing Miller High Life and Jim Beam while I watched the sun come up to the classic "20 of Hank Williams' Greatest Hits" album. I think I fell in love with it because Hank's story paralleled the Kurt Cobain story in such an uncanny way. The reluctant superstar who self-medicates due to a severe medical problem. Just substitute booze and Spina Bifida for stomach maladies and heroin. The music is simple and raw... and both men were ciphers for the pain of their time. As Hank himself states in the film - his fans come to see him to get a piece of that darkness, but don't have to take it home with them. This film crackles with a maniacal energy and the sole reason is the intensity of Hiddleston's performance. Dante Spinotti (Manhunter, Heat, L.A. Confidential) is also around to help set the mood with period perfect sun-spackled cinematography.
Where this film differs from the other murky biopics I mentioned above is that it doesn't always wallow in it's own misery (despite what some critics may have you believe). For every hostile, ill-tempered Hank outburst there are moments of sheer beauty. From the unbridled joy we see on Hiddleston's face as Hank finally realizes his dream of playing The Opry...to the impish drunken splendor of Hank gleefully opening and closing his new automatic garage door...to the haunting solo rendition of "Your Cheatin' Heart" that a broken down Hank sings for his long time producer (Bradley Whitford sighting!) as his hapless 2nd wife forlornly looks on.
Plus Tom Hiddleston can just flat out do a mean version of Lovesick Blues!
It's a crying shame this film is getting buried because Hiddleston has now given my two favorite acting performances I've seen this past month (Crimson Peak and now this). It's great craft such as this that can lift a cheesy biopic out of mediocrity and give it resonance. Paul Dano and John Cusack did it in last year's Love and Mercy, and Tom Hiddleston does it here.
★★★½ review by RetroHound on Letterboxd
I am a huge fan of Hank Williams and have several of his records. This was a nicely done biopic but not outstanding. Of course, few are. Hank is such a tragic figure and he made many self-destructive decisions on top of his health issues and probable depression or bi-polar disorder.
They brushed right over his Luke the Drifter output. It's mentioned, but not explained. He used Luke the Drifter to record mostly Gospel songs, such as his own composition, I Saw The Light. That song is still sung in churches today, and probably most of those singing don't even know he wrote it. I have two albums full of Luke the Drifter recordings, so it was a large output for only 6 six years in addition to the many Hank Williams recordings.
★★★½ review by Chris Jiggs on Letterboxd
Just caught the world premier at TIFF. Hiddleston was magnetic. The story itself could have been told better as a mini-series. Not a complete missed opportunity, but close.
★★★½ review by Cosmic Sentry on Letterboxd
Hank Williams was a hell of a musician, but truly a hot hot mess.
★★★½ review by Paul on Letterboxd
Part of list:
- Years Ranked: 2016
I asked for a ticket to a terrible, 15%-on-Rotten-Tomatoes trainwreck of a movie but the guy behind the counter instead sold me one for this engaging, well-acted biopic with convincing period set pieces and costumes, and excellent musical performances. And I don't even like country music.
I would say "critics are being unfair," but they're critics. Sometimes their views and my views align and that's cool; sometimes they don't and that's cool, too. This case is definitely the latter. I was transported and entertained for a couple hours. Could it have been better? Yes. Could it have been worse? Oh, definitely.
Tom Hiddleston portrays Hank Williams and proves that he can be a charismatic lead and carry a film. Expect to see plenty more dramatic range from him in the not-too-distant future. Elizabeth Olsen has already proven herself and matches wits, playing Hank's wife, Audrey.
The tone is vibrant but the undercurrent is bleak. There is always a sense of dissatisfaction in Hank's eyes, but only when he's not performing. His career was short-lived but incredibly successful. 30-some hits in a six-year recording period, selling 11 million records? (Someone check my numbers, please.) That's beyond impressive. His home life was slightly less successful, and that's where most of the focus in the film lies. I mean, it's a biopic, not a concert film. But it balances the two as well as any other film of its kind.
I don't know, I'm rambling. I don't hate this film and I'm not sorry.
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