Please note that this is a repost of my review from the 2015 Middleburg Film Festival.
Before making “I Saw the Light,” it would have been hard to imagine Tom Hiddleston in a role that required him to sing. But any trepidation you might have about hearing his singing voice replace that of Hank Williams, the country singer-songwriter he portrays in the aforementioned film, is gone as soon as you hear him belt out the first few notes. However, regardless of Hiddleston’s hidden musical talents, Marc Abraham’s “I Saw the Light” is underwhelming, vague, and is an uneven biopic of a man who is considered a legend.
With several songs landing on the Billboard Top 10 for Country and Western music, Hank Williams is regarded as one of the most influential musicians of his time. Director and writer Marc Abraham focuses on the years of 1946 and 1953, beginning with his marriage to Audrey Sheppard (Elizabeth Olsen), a woman just as stubborn as Williams. Audrey also attempts to have a music career, although her lack of musical abilities stifle her dreams very quickly. She supposedly managed Williams’s career for nearly a decade, but from the film you’d think that all she was good for was being a whiny and demeaning wife, without clearly balancing her imperfections with Williams’s own.
The trouble with the film is that there is no clear trajectory. There are some explanations given by a couple of producers of certain times in the singer’s life which are mostly used to clue us in as to what’s happening onscreen in unwanted fashion. Unmemorable characters (including his own band), and the women in his life filter in and out of the film with no semblance of importance to their presence in Williams’s life whatsoever. Williams suffered from alcoholism and a tumultuous marriage with Audrey and these are both portrayed in the film, but their interactions are cluttered and problematic.
Abraham wants you to read between the lines clearly, but the way the plot is setup makes for a clunky path to an anti-climatic end. There is no major conflict, no real turning point, and nor are any of the character’s actions understood. As an example, Williams later marries a woman named Billie Jean (Maddie Hanson) and all we’re given as to why he wanted to marry her was that we saw her at a concert. That’s all. There is no depth to any of his decisions or character and the film asks the audience to go on good faith and trust that he was a legend for a reason rather than showing you why.
As a biopic, “I Saw the Light” is a mess of events without a clear center. Tom Hiddleston is miscast as Williams, and while his voice is pretty good and the music is the best part of the film, Abraham relies too heavily on showing the bleakness and often disastrous events of the singer’s life without regard as to why anyone really fell in love with his music to begin with. With no emotional attachment to the characters and a plot that struggles to stay interesting, “I Saw the Light” is often dull and a hard sell.
With no emotional attachment to the characters and a plot that struggles to stay interesting, "I Saw the Light" is often dull and a hard sell.