I distinctly remember the moment I saw the first promotional photo from I Saw the Light, this week’s biopic about country music legend Hank Williams. I was taken aback by how much star Tom Hiddleston resembled the iconic singer, and felt confident that an actor of his caliber could deliver a stirring portrayal of such an important figure in music history.
While my faith in Hiddleston was well-placed – he’s absolutely fantastic in the role – nearly everything else about I Saw the Light is a disappointment. Working from his own script, director Marc Abraham seems disinterested in demonstrating why Williams’ songs resonated with so many people, and how they helped shaped the future of country music. Instead, the bulk of the film’s running time is devoted to the crooner’s troubled marriage to Audrey Mae Sheppard (Elizabeth Olsen), and his well-documented problems with drinking and infidelity.
That’s not to say that these elements shouldn’t be explored, because they played a key role in the creation of the music that made Williams a star, but Abraham’s film never even attempts to illustrate that connection. There are plenty of musical sequences – during which Hiddleston does his own singing – but they feel haphazardly inserted, with the song selections rarely corresponding to the events of the previous or subsequent scenes. It’s as if someone took a Greatest Hits collection and attempted to splice it into a mediocre relationship drama.
The end result is a film that feels dull and unfocused, barely scratching the surface and never really giving the audience a sense of who Williams truly was. The inability to form any kind of attachment to the onscreen character leaves his death – which came tragically at the age of 29 due to heart failure – with zero emotional impact. It’s just another moment in a film that’s comprised entirely of moments and almost no connective tissue, and that’s a shame, because Williams deserved much better than I Saw the Light has to offer.
A stellar performance from Tom Hiddleston can't rescue this mediocre biopic about legendary country artist Hank Williams, which is more interested in exploring the singer's martial woes than the impact and influence of his music.