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Sony Pictures

I Saw the Light, and it was terrible

By Danielle Kim, April 1 2016 —

When a film tries to capture the story of a prolific individual, it either results in a captivating tribute or completely loses its message in the attempt. Unfortunately, I Saw the Light fits into the latter category.

The Hank Williams biopic documents the rise and fall of the iconic country singer. Williams struggled with alcoholism and drug use throughout his life, eventually leading to his untimely death in 1953 at age 29. The movie features a talented cast, with Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olson in the lead roles. Hiddleston plays the part of the charming crooner well and Olson gives a convincing performance as his scorned wife — but they’re not enough to salvage the movie.

The film follows the standard storyline of a tortured, controversial musician. In addition to his other vices, Williams was an infamous womanizer prone to showing up to gigs drunk.

But the film’s main weakness isn’t its subject matter’s familiarity — it’s the stilted way director Marc Abraham chooses to tell the story. The film gives little background on how Williams started playing music, instead showing frequent flashbacks of former producers speaking about the singer after his death. This seems like an effort to reveal more information about Williams’ character as the movie progresses, but choppy editing makes it hard for audiences to form connections to any of the characters. It just feels awkward.

The musical reenactments are nostalgic fun and one of the film’s few highlights. Prior to filming, Hiddleston trained with country singer Rodney Crowell so he could lend his own voice to the film. While Williams’ grandson criticized the choice, the soundtrack is likely to appease old-school country fans.

In trying to capture the full scope of Williams’ life, I Saw the Light drags on as the director neglects to build any sort of action. Events happen without context, leaving the viewer unsure of how to react. Even the announcement of Williams’ death at the end of the movie feels anticlimactic.

The film is haphazard, jumping from one moment to the next. The biggest shame of the movie isn’t that the final product won’t satisfy longtime Hank Williams fans — it’s that it won’t give new fans a chance to get to know him.

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