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I Saw the Light
In a career spanning just six years, country music star Hiram King Williams - known affectionately as Hank - recorded over 30 hit records including Your Cheatin' Heart and Hey, Good Lookin'. In considerably less time - a couple of strums over two hours - writer-director Marc Abraham's biopic stubbornly refuses to illuminate Williams' meteoric rise to fame, his indelible impact on 1940s and 1950s American culture, or the volatile personal relationships that kindled his songwriting genius. I Saw The Light is infuriating, mixing real news footage with faux black and white interviews with industry mavens, who were instrumental in his dizzying ascent. "I liked Hank straight off. I think it was because he didn't give a damn if you liked him," confides song publisher Fred Rose, played by Bradley Whitford. That facet of Williams' personality doesn't resonate in Abraham's film, or in the performance of British actor Tom Hiddleston, who sports a Stetson and a silky Alabama accent, but is appreciably too old to play the troubled figure from ages 23 to 29. Throughout, we're kept at arm's length from the man and his manifold demons. The film opens in 1944 at an Alabama gas station, where Hank (Hiddleston) marries his sweetheart Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen). She hopes to be his musical partner as well as his soulmate and insists on duetting with Hank to the chagrin of his domineering mother, Lillie (Cherry Jones). "That woman hasn't got a clue who the star is around here," seethes the matriarch. When Hank's song Love Sick Blues tops the country music chart, he seems destined for greatness and bypasses the usual audition process for the Grand Ole Opry to make his debut at the legendary venue. His slick performance receives rapturous applause and Hank takes a light grasp of fame and celebrity flanked by his manager Fred (Whitford). Hank plies his charm on various women and drinks to excess to dull the pain in his back, which is diagnosed as spina bifida. "Cure me or kill me, doc. I can't go on," Hank pleads with one medic. Loved ones cannot curb Hank's excesses and he careens towards self-destruction in the company of two more women, Bobbie Jett (Wrenn Schmidt) and Billie Jean Jones (Maddie Hasson). I Saw The Light feels like a series of crudely assembled footnotes rather than a meaty history lesson. Were it not for frequent on-screen captions denoting time and place, there would be no clear delineation between each lacklustre chapter. Chemistry between Hiddleston and Olsen barely smolders, the latter drawn to Hank for no real reason. Williams sang about glimpsing God's healing light in the gospel lament that gives the film its title, but we're left completely in the dark by the fractured narrative and lack of context or detail.