Susan Granger’s review of “I Saw the Light” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Country is America’s most popular music, and much of the credit goes to charismatic singer/songwriter Hank Williams.
Wearing an oversized, cream-colored cowboy hat, lanky Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston) emerged from the local Alabama scene in the 1940s and ‘50s. Called “the hillbilly Shakespeare,” he was addicted to whiskey and women, strumming about sorrow, suffering and shame.
Eventually becoming a Grand Ole Opry star, he had dozens of hit records, including classics like “Cold, Cold Heart,” “Lovesick Blues,” “Move It on Over,” “Hey, Good Lookin’” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”
Inspired by Colin Escott’s “Hank Williams: The Biography,” writer/director Mark Abraham (“Spy Game,” “Flash of Genius”) sets a plodding pace, focusing more on Williams tumultuous, self-destructive life than his creative genius, encompassing his marriage to ambitious Audrey Mae (Elizabeth Olsen) and her conflict with his overbearing mother, Lillie (Cherry Jones).
When he died on New Year’s Day, 1953, at the age of 29 in the back seat of his powder-blue Cadillac on the way to a concert, Williams’ last single was prophetically titled “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.”
While classically trained British actor Tom Hiddleston – a.k.a. Loki in “Thor” and “Avengers” movies – is generally convincing as he sings Williams’ songs, he doesn’t have Williams’ distinctive twang. And that makes a difference, particularly for devoted fans.
So, I doubt this will join the top pantheon of musical biopics like Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line,” Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams,” even Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose.”
FYI: In 1964, Williams’ life was first filmed, as “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” regrettably starring lip-sync’ing George Hamilton; the part was originally intended for Elvis Presley. “Hank Williams First Nation” (2005) follows an elderly Cree tribesman’s journey to Nashville to find his hero. And “The Last Ride” (2012) envisions Williams’ final road trip.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “I Saw the Light” is a hazy 4. It’s just not illuminating.