Published on July 11th, 2016 | by Craig Silliphant0
I Saw the Light
I Saw the Light is another amazing performance from Tom Hiddleston, but it serves as a warning that we need to reform the biopic genre.
It feels like Tom Hiddleston is all that I see on my TV anymore, having just watched The Night Manager, High-Rise, and now I Saw the Light. And perhaps I should be jealous, as my wife gets a certain glint in her eyes when she sees him (especially his nude sunbathing scene in High-Rise). I’m not upset though, because I might have a little man-crush on him as well.
Unfortunately, I Saw the Light does him a great disservice, even though he works like hell to bring life to the film. It is the story of country music star Hank Williams, which should hold some pretty fascinating fodder for storytelling, but alas, is not well-mined here.
In fact, it has me griping about a need to rethink the way we make biographical movies, in a post-Walk Hard world. I Saw the Light is another biopic that tries to leapfrog from career/life milestones to cram them all in, instead of working to get to the truth about the person. Most of the (especially music) biopics I see feel this way, like Straight Outta Compton or the recent James Brown film Get On Up. Though at least those movies entertain on some level, especially the latter.
It’s time to tell better stories about some of these people. Why do we need to see the characters from when they were young, working their way up, meeting the seminal people in their lives, and only then try to squeeze some sort of coherent story in there? We certainly don’t do that with other films, at least not as a rule. More of these stories could focus on one particular moment in time and try to reach the heart of the man or woman from there. For example, in I Saw the Light, the movie almost becomes entertaining when Williams wants to do a version of ‘Lovesick Blues,’ but his band and producer are against the idea. Williams does it anyway, and the song became a massive hit and his signature song. You could make a whole movie about this journey, or at least, it could be a longer running subplot. Why did Williams insist on this song? Answer that question and you might be closer to knowing more about the man behind the song.
Chadwick Boseman does a great job of capturing James Brown. O’Shea Jackson Jr. almost makes you think you’ve gone back in a time machine and met Ice Cube. Many actors and actresses are going to great lengths to become these pop culture icons, but the genre is letting them down. Hiddleston sings his own songs here, which could be dangerous when covering such an icon, but works really well. Unfortunately, his performance belongs in a better movie.
The story plods along, not necessarily terrible, but uniformly uninteresting. It focuses too much on his relationships and not enough on his music or his personal demons, of which he had many. Now, perhaps the filmmakers just decided to tell a different story than what I would expect, and that’s fine, I guess. But the movie eventually devolves into a series of dull conversations. Williams was a reckless alcoholic and a complex person and there are legendary stories about him that would be both dramatic and enlightening. He was the father of contemporary country music and in the mere four years between when he became a superstar and before his death at 29, he set the tone for all the performers who came after him. There’s gotta be something interesting to sift from a life like that.
It’s too bad that Williams gets the short end here — I can’t recommend sitting through I Saw the Light unless you’re gobbling down amphetamines to stay awake. Or maybe if you’re a Hiddleston completist. He really does turn in an affecting performance in a movie that doesn’t walk down the path to greatness with him.
Here’s one for my wife: