I Saw The Light

Tom Hiddleston in I Saw The Light, (Ster-Kinekor)
Tom Hiddleston in I Saw The Light, (Ster-Kinekor)

What it's about:

The true story of Hank Williams, the legendary country musician who set the course for popular music for the next half century but whose personal life was every bit as troubled as the bleak lyrics of his songs suggested.

What we thought:

Hank Williams was, in no uncertain terms, one of the single greatest and most influential figures in 20th century popular music. His songs of love and heartbreak all but entirely defined what country music would be from then and on and, just as importantly, if you can't hear the beginnings of early rock and roll in his recordings, then you're clearly not paying any attention at all.

It's a pity then that that this extraordinary – if highly troubled - talent has received such a thoroughly ordinary biopic in the form of I Saw the Light. With its tiresomely familiar tale of fame and self-destruction; genius and assholery, this is pop biopic 101 that commits the fatal flaw of saying much about sex and drugs and, really, not enough about rock and roll. 

Admittedly, it isn't helped by being part of a genre that was recently deconstructed by the hilarious (if erratic) Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and then reconstructed by last year's stone-cold brilliant Brian Wilson biopic, Love and Mercy, but the old formula clearly has at least some life left in it. Straight Outta Compton, for example, might be overlong and overrated but tucked in that very indulgent 2.5 hour behemoth is a seriously powerful and vivacious 90 minute pop biopic. Even looking at the film that most obviously inspired Walk Hard, the Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line, that formula can be turned on its head with a bit of focus and plenty of sharp, lively filmmaking.

Sadly, the writer and director of I Saw the Light, Marc Abraham, may be a very respected producer but he simply lacks the cinematic heft to lift the film from feeling both televisual and more than a little tired. We don't so much follow Hank Williams from his humble beginnings to his first tastes of fame to his crumbling personal life that results from said fame, as we sit around impatiently waiting for each of these to happen so that something more interesting might come of it. Unfortunately, nothing really does.

The film lacks the central hook of something like Walk the Line with its focal romance or the invention of Love and Mercy or the upcoming Miles Ahead but perhaps its biggest crime is just how perfunctory its music is. With most of the songs relegated to quick snippets, we are neither shown why this music was so influential nor why it still resonates to this day. Instead the film constantly minimises the most important part of the Hank Williams story for an unneeded focus on an unflattering and overly familiar surface look at his life and (quite terrible) relationships.

All this said, though, I Saw the Light is still actually worth seeing, thanks purely to a true powerhouse of a central performance. Quite aside for Brit Tom Hiddleston being utterly convincing as a fame American Southerner, he brings more subtlety and nuance to his portrayal of the character than is clearly there in the script itself. He also provides all of Hank William's singing and guitar parts; again with utter authenticity and conviction. The cast is full of top notch talent like Elizabeth Olsen and Bradley Whitford but this is Hiddleston's movie all the way. As it rightly should be.