It can be a little hard to look past the throngs of fangirls, or “god” complex, and remember that Tom Hiddleston is a seriously talented actor.
Fortunately (and also, unfortunately in this case), there are films like “I Saw the Light” out there to showcase his skills.
Hiddleston’s IMDB has him listed going back to the early 2000s, but it wasn’t until his role as the Asgardian god, Loki, in 2011’s “Thor” and 2013’s “The Avengers” that Hiddleston skyrocketed to fame and captured the hearts of hundred of thousands of geek girls across the globe.
Hiddleston didn’t have the muscles or golden locks of his costar, Chris Hemsworth, but that didn’t stop him from very nearly stealing the show, er, movie. In fact, depending on who you are — including me — he did.
“I Saw the Light” couldn’t be further from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a biopic on legendary country singer Hank Williams’ tragically short life. Williams’ star shone brightly — his legacy still honored today — before burning out when he was just 29 years old.
Normally, you wouldn’t expect a British actor to be cast as a 1950s country crooner. But, Hiddleston proved he has more than just the look. While he definitely looked the part — tall, lanky with a smile a mile wide — Hiddleston also nailed Southern accent and singing.
In fact, it was an absolute delight to watch Hiddleston lose himself in the role and the performances it entailed. Unfortunately, Hiddleston was the only delightful part of the movie.
“I Saw the Light” spans Williams’ life from when he was about 23 or 24 up until the time of his death. Our first look at him is when he and his future bride, Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen), are getting married before a justice of the peace. It’s pointed out that her divorce was finalized only about a week or so before.
And that’s the first clue that their relationship is kind of jacked up. As with any biopic, liberties are taken, and I’m sure the same is done here. Regardless, Hank and Audrey had what some might call “mad love.” Their relationship was unhealthy for them both.
Very few punches are pulled when documenting Williams’ life. He was an addict and womanizer who desired instant gratification in all facets of his life. He wanted what he wanted, and he’d step on anyone to get it. At least, that’s the story the film tells us.
And maybe that’s part of the problem. The film isn’t good. At all. We’re given front-row seats to Williams’ life of excess. No woman was enough, and there was always time for one more drink or pill. But that’s the only side we’re really given. Williams was a man haunted by demons that picked away at his soul, but we’re only shown the physical effects of his actions. Hiddleston does his best to portray Williams, but the material he’s given is wanting.
“I Saw the Light” is unstructured and slogs its way through the troubled rise and fall of arguably one of country music’s most legendary figures.
From the opening credits where a silhouetted Hiddleston sings an acoustic, mournful “Cold, Cold Heart” — a powerful moment — to the final scene of a mournful concert audience singing the title song after learning of Williams’ death, the film contained within should pack a punch. We should be sad and leave the theater changed.
Instead, director Marc Abraham and Co. wasted not only a wealth of material available but also a talented cast. Olsen is given little to work with outside of tone-deaf songs and the stereotypical role of nagging wife. Moments that should be a punch in the gut are treated in such a way that some audience members manage to find levity in them, such as discovering Williams’ doctor at the time of his death was a quack who bought his diploma from a traveling salesman. A man a couple of seats from me actually laughed.
Of course, that man also laughed when Williams’ mother, Lillie (Cherry Jones), called Audrey a “divorcing b----” and found it funny when Williams’ womanizing ways caught up to him because he couldn’t keep his girlfriends straight.
Williams’ life and relationships were complex. He was a troubled man, but Abraham and his crew had no clue what to do with Hiddleston or this story. They were given the story of a lifetime, literally, and an extremely talented actor to star as its lead, and the potential was as wasted as Williams at a Grand Ole Opry show.