REVIEWS

TIFF 2015: Marc Abraham's 'I Saw the Light' Starring Tom Hiddleston

by
September 17, 2015

I Saw the Light Review

Country music legend Hank Williams was a tortured man plagued by his own success and exuberance. Dying way too young and leaving behind a treasure trove of inspiration, many musicians still credit him to his day. These facts are given a very light touch in Marc Abraham's new biopic I Saw the Light, a movie that tries to encapsulate what made Williams so special but never digs deep enough to get any real answers. British actor Tom Hiddleston slips on a cowboy hat and gives it his all as Williams and the result is a surprising knockout. He is fully devoted to the part so it's a shame the rest of the film can't keep up with him.

I Saw the Light is a title that refers to one of Hank's most beloved songs and it starts, as most biopics do, in the beginning. In this case the year is 1944 and Hank is about to marry his first wife Audrey (played by Elizabeth Olsen) at an Alabama gas station. The two are deeply in love and have no idea of the emotional hurricane in store for both of them. What slowly shows the couple becoming close as newlyweds quickly escalates to Audrey bullying her way into Hank's music. She's opportunistic to the point that she demands they sing together despite her less than stellar vocal talents.

Cut to one of many scenes of the couple fighting and shouting at each other interspersed with quick reenactments of Williams rising to the top of the music charts. Throw in some heavy drug and alcohol abuse as well as the casual womanizing and you've got the traditional formula for most biopics. The film embraces that by-the-numbers formula and the result is a long and unfocused mess.

Writer-director Marc Abraham (Flash of Genius) does very little to make I Saw the Light come to life the way it should. He crams the screenplay with so much repetition and dramatic filler that this two hour movie feels like an endurance test. Some of the major highlights in Williams' life are examined but most of the movie's focus is on the mundane details and marital tension that served as a real-life backdrop to the man. We get the sense that Hank Williams was an important figure in the music industry but we also knew that before the movie started. The hows and whys behind the persona are what we want to see. That is what would have made I Saw the Light stand out and sadly that is what the filmmakers avoid the most.

Biopics as a genre are difficult to pull off since even the best ones adhere to the same A-B-C structure that have made them ripe for parody. The two highlights in I Saw the Light are huge and save the film from completely going off the deep end. The first are the two lead performances. Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen are electric onscreen together and their scenes are a masterclass in acting. Hiddleston expertly hides his British roots to get into Hank's American persona while Olsen walks a fine line between mysterious and conniving with ease.

The second weapon in its arsenal are the musical scenes with Hiddleston performing Hank's music live. There's no safety net and his voice, while not completely authentic, is still mesmerizing and haunting at the same time. Awards consideration for both leads is justified but the film as a whole is a repetitive exercise.

Marco's TIFF 2015 Rating: C
Follow Marco on Twitter - @BigDumbMale

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  • Bo
    Thanks for the review, Marco. Yea, like I stated on the Jobs thread, biopics are tough to pull off. Not the least of which it's tough for any actor to pull off playing a famous person whom we all have been exposed to and know what they look like. Curious enough, I'm not as troubled suspending my disbelief regarding Hiddleston playing Williams as I am with Fassbender playing Jobs. Ummmm......
    • DAVIDPD
      This is an interested point to raise. Especially in film. Actors are actors. For me personally, as long as the actor plays the role well enough, I do not mind if they are an A-List celebrity. Getting hung up on a familiar face just seems a little unreasonable considering the medium we are talking about.
      • Bo
        Okay, David. Well stated. However, getting 'hung up' or being 'unreasonable' I find to be a little misstated. I know what you are saying, but because of the medium, film, that we are talking about a 'suspension of disbelief' is required as we know it's all fake. Sometimes that suspension of disbelief comes easier than other times. Sometimes, for me, the suspension of disbelief is impossible. These biopics are a perfect example and all in the film business, especially those that decide to be a part of one of these biopics, realize these difficulties. One who willingly and easily can suspend their disbelief might do well to respect the fact that others cannot or are not willing to in certain cases. It has nothing to do with being reasonable or unreasonable. It's just a personal and subjective decision and/or position. Agreed?
        • DAVIDPD
          Sure. These kinds of things are almost always a two way street. I will have to say that being that this is a medium of "make believe" I find it personally difficult to side with your line of reasoning on this matter. I do, however, respect that every one should be entitled to their opinion without a fear of reproach, so I will discontinue any further criticizing. I will conclude with maybe this point was more salient to me because of the frequency I have see you post on the topic. Again, totally within your rights, as I am in mine. // Good day.
          • Bo
            Why do you find it personally difficult to side with my line of reasoning, David? Do you mean to tell me that you like ALL movies that you see? That you believe ALL films that you watch? That sometimes you are unable to suspend disbelief because the movie is just too absurd to you? I would also suggest that you let the past experience(s) you have had with my posts on the subject not unduly influence your reactions to my present post(s). Your reactions and respectful responses to my past posts have indeed helped and influenced me to re-fashion the way I now attempt to post on this site in order to engage in intelligent and mutually respectful discourse regarding all of our sometimes differing views on film. I appreciate your stating that it's totally within my rights and certainly believe the same regarding you. Good day to you also.
    • dan
      I don't think it's THAT difficult to do a good biopic. of course, we may not -see it the same way but I really liked: -the temptations (leon as david ruffin is worth the time to watch) -what's love got to do with it - basset/fishburne did a great job -talk to me - LOVED don cheadles petey greene! -get on up I was skeptical going in - but chadwick bosemon did a good job -all is by my side - again, skeptical going in but I loved andre3000 as jimi -the runaways - good biopic about joan jett and her bandmates. - loved Michael shannons part in this.
  • DAVIDPD
    I was pretty hyped for this. Sorry to hear that you did not really enjoy it. I will still check it out eventually, probably just to watch the performance Hiddleston gives outside of his Loki character.

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