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I Saw the Light is a beautifully shot, well-acted biopic held back by its lack of focus and purpose. It sets out to tell the story of famous country-western singer Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston), who rose to stardom in the mid-1940s, before tragically dying young in 1953 due to poor health.
I Saw the Light is a treat to the senses. It perfectly captures the aesthetic of the 40s and 50s, with exquisite attention to detail, brought to life by stunning cinematography. Tom Hiddleston is superb as Hank Williams, with a surprisingly convincing southern accent that he maintains even when he sings. It’s a powerful, moving performance that is, sadly, wasted on a movie that does not seem to know what to be.
Is this a story about Hank’s career? Is it a story about his marriage? His drinking problem? His womanizing? The answers is both all and none of the above, as I Saw the Light seems curiously content with fading in and out of Hank’s life, always giving the audience enough to be informed of what’s going on, but rarely enough to get invested.
I felt very emotionally distanced from the characters, which made the movie feel more like a masterclass of acting than an effective, coherent drama. There is not a single bad performance to be found in I Saw the Light, and Elizabeth Olsen in particular has great chemistry with Hiddleston, but even though I was experiencing the key moments of their relationship, I never truly cared.
One of the best examples of the movie’s odd sense of detachment from the proceedings is when Hank’s wife Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) tells him she’s pregnant. The next time we see her is after the baby has already been born. It does not come across as jarring, or confusing, but I could not shake the feeling that we were missing something in between to help anchor the emotional charge.
I Saw the Light is a movie that commits the unforgivable sin of being boring, despite having a talented cast and being based on what certainly looks like the fascinating story of a complex man.
I lost count on how many scenes there was of Hank singing a song on stage. It makes sense, considering the subject matter, but there are so many of them, and so few offer any variation. The songs are different, the costumes are different, but a lot of these sequences are shot so similarly that they feel identical to one another. The songs, while well performed, eventually just start to blur together.
Despite not knowing anything about Hank Williams prior to watching the movie, I instantly realized when and how he was going to die, because the movie telegraphs his death so transparently in those final scenes, that any emotional impact they could have had was completely drained away. It felt almost manipulative.
Fans of Tom Hiddleston will surely appreciate his outstanding and very committed performance, and I am sure fans of Hank Williams or country in general will find a lot to like in I Saw the Light as well, but to me, it felt like a very well-made, yet very hollow and unsatisfying movie.