THE MOVIE GUY: Hank Williams biopic never gets under his skin or behind his music

Published 11:20 pm Thursday, March 31, 2016

I don’t know that much about country music icon Hank Williams, other than he wrote some legendary, old school country music and died when he was only 29 years old. It’s not the music I grew up with, although I was still interested in learning his story. I had hoped that the new biopic, “I Saw the Light” might offer some insight into what made the man tick. Unfortunately I left the theatre just as estranged from the Hank Williams story as I was before the show started

That’s a shame, as I think the film features some nice performances and obviously covers a topic of interest for many people. Tom Hiddleston plays Williams while Ashley Olsen plays his young bride, Audrey. They have a nice chemistry in their early scenes, but that wanes as the film progresses. That progress turns out to be a lot of incidental moments where Williams is drinking, doing drugs, philandering and suffering from back problems.

It plays like a laundry list of suffering, and while it may very well be true, the film would have been far more affecting had it devoted more time to Williams’ music. I’m guessing that is the reason most people will be in the theater, but it doesn’t seem to be the reason for making the movie.

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His rise to fame comes off as something that just happened. We don’t see much of his career struggles and we certainly aren’t invited to watch him writing all those iconic country music songs. Subsequently, we are asked to accept his legions of devoted fans only because the casting department has filled out the performance scenes, not because of anything coming from inside the film. That is a disservice to the man (and his fans) and makes the film feel false, or at least, sloppy and unfocused.

The performances are still pretty good. Hiddleston does a great job making us forget that he’s British and it’s a nice surprise to find that he has a pretty good voice. It’s a shame that he isn’t given more of an opportunity to sing. Olsen is also quite good playing his longsuffering wife, although it’s very much a supporting performance.

I was hoping that the filmmakers would get underneath the singer’s skin. I was hoping for some explanation as to what made Hank Williams so special. Instead, “I Saw the Light” delivers a little bit of the music, a litany of troubles that quickly becomes tedious, and very little genuine insight into Hank Williams’ music or his troubled life.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email