Hank Williams is one of country music’s biggest legends, his stature within the industry secured in spite of his death at 29. He certainly sounded significantly older, and his lifelong health problems and issues with alcoholism only contributed to that. In other words, he’s as ripe for the biopic treatment as any pop culture figure. In spite of some serious effort by star Tom Hiddleston, though, I Saw the Light fails to make an interesting film from Williams’ life, instead succumbing to a rote series of events.
After opening with Williams’ marriage to first wife Audrey Sheppard (Elizabeth Olsen) in 1944, I Saw the Light covers Williams’ life through his death en route to a concert on New Year’s Day 1953. In Williams’ life, plenty happened during this period, but the film keeps its focus almost squarely on Williams’ personal issues with infidelity and alcoholism, as well as his health issues later in his brief life. In the process, the film glides past his bigger professional moments, particularly the failures, such as his failed first audition for the Grand Ole Opry.
Hiddleston’s performance is possibly the only reason to watch the film, but even with his best efforts, it doesn’t quite work. Hiddleston is a good bit older than Williams was, and even though Williams looked older than his 29 years by the time he died, Hiddleston does little to convey the younger Williams in an age-appropriate way. Hiddleston also provides his own vocals to Williams’ songs, and he sounds technically on-point, but his voice lacks the impact of Williams’ voice on songs like “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”
For someone who provided a legitimate jolt to the country music scene during his lifetime, I Saw the Light fails to convey that electricity. Instead, I Saw the Light attempts to tell a fairly conventional biopic story with a tragic ending, one that comes abruptly and off-screen. And until that point, the film is more than find meandering for over two hours. It’s a waste of a potent story and a solid lead performer.