Austin Film Festival 2015 Review: I SAW THE LIGHT

By Liz Lopez

Rating: B

Marc Abraham’s biopic of Hank Williams, I Saw the Light, has incredible performances from Tom Hiddleston (as Williams) and Elizabeth Olsen (as his first wife, Audrey), and several of Williams’ timeless songs, including Cold, Cold Heart, Your Cheatin’ Heart and Lovesick Blues among many others. I grew up hearing country music, along with other genres of music, as my mother always had the radio on while she was cooking. As I viewed the film, it was a throwback to younger days and a time when many songs were created from the life that they experienced and the struggles they endured. Early in his career, Williams expressed his long term dream to perform on the Grand Ole Opry stage and would not mince words with anyone about his plan; despite several times he was told it would take time. There is no doubt that Williams had talent, but as audiences will note from the very early scenes, Williams also has beer for breakfast, through the day and the rest of his life that ends at age 29.    

Hiddleston is impressive as he speaks and sings, without a trace of sounding British as he does so. Although not exactly like Williams, he definitely sounds like a country singer I would listen to. He put the “sexy” into his performances and that confident style about him made women melt and men jealous. I recall listening to Rodney Crowell, Executive Music Producer, present the feature film at the Austin Film Festival last November. He described how impressed he is with Hiddleston’s dedication and effort to learn about Williams, the songs and upon arriving, staying fully committed to preparing for this film and not heading out to be on the town.

I Saw the Light is directed and written by Marc Abraham, based on Colin Escott’s book, Hank Williams: The Biography. I have not read this source material, so I cannot comment on how faithful the script is to the book. The film begins with 21-year-old Williams (Hiddleston) and the recently divorced Audrey (Olsen) entering into marriage with a justice of the peace. There are scenes with Williams’ publisher, Fred Rose (Bradley Whitford), and his pedal-steel player and confidante, Don Helms (Wes Langlois). The recurring theme of drinking, women and confrontations are there, along with scenes of walking into CBS studios in New York to appear on television.

Although the focus of the film is on plenty of his personal life (wives, women and children), there is music and musical performances. Depending on the viewers taste and desire for more music than romance and drama, some audiences might want more. This is not a music documentary and that would be another film. For now, I recommend viewing the biopic that captures a part of his life leading to his death before he turned 30.

Running time: 122 mintues

Source: Sony Pictures Classics

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