There are two things I love in this world above all others: Tom Hiddleston and old school country music. I'm more of a Johnny Cash fan, but when I saw the previews for a Hank Williams biopic starring Tom "ball of sunshine" Hiddleston, I was stoked.
I Saw the Light was hugely hyped up around the Nashville area, seeing as some of Williams' defining career moments took place at the Grand Ole Opry. He's a legend in the same vein as Elvis Presley, and insulting his memory (especially in our state capital) is comparable to defacing the Mona Lisa.
Fortunately, I Saw the Light didn't do that. Hiddleston's performance was excellent, even down to the accent (his native British one rarely, if ever, slipped through) and the singing. He even did his own singing and guitar playing, perhaps drawing inspiration from Joaquin Phoenix's Johnny Cash in Walk the Line.
Nothing was sugarcoated, from his troubled marriage to Audrey Williams (played by Elizabeth "Mary Kate and Ashley's little sister" Olsen) to his struggles with alcoholism and Spina bifida. In all honesty, Hiddleston's performance makes you want to go back in time and punch Hank Williams in the face. Can you hear the lightning coming to strike me down?
Throughout the movie, he cheats on his wife too many times to count, drinks enough whiskey to supply an army, and ruins any and all professional relationships he comes across. In short, the man is, as my dad puts it, "a total train wreck."
Aside from his musical talent, Hiddleston's Williams has one hugely redeeming quality: his love for his son, the now-legendary Hank Williams, Jr. In the scene the movie draws its title from, Hank and Audrey sing his classic gospel song to their crying baby. It's a genuinely sweet, moving scene in a movie filled with very uncomfortable moments. Despite everything, it's impossible to doubt that Williams loved his son.
In spite of all my praise for the actors' performances, there is a reason the movie didn't perform well with critics. Many sites attribute this fact to the script, but I have to disagree.
Although it was a little uninspired, the script was hardly bad. My problem with the movie lies in the editing. I Saw the Light is touted as a dramatic biopic, but at times it feels more like a horror movie, complete with random jump cuts and inexplicably slow sequences. Why exactly is Hank's first Opry performance in slow motion? Why are Audrey and Hank cheerful one moment and at each other’s throats the next, with little to no foreshadowing? Why are documentary-style "talking head" interviews used as explanatory devices? I couldn't tell you, honestly, and I don't think the filmmakers can, either. The movie can't seem to decide what emotion it's going for, and that's seldom a good thing.
Still, I Saw the Light didn't quite meet the low expectations I entered the theater with. Instead, it surpassed them. Good acting can carry a weirdly edited, rushed movie, and Hiddleston and Olsen rose to the occasion. Go see it, if only to support those two.