Beginning with a quiet, haunting, monologue-ish rendition of “Cold, cold heart,” I Saw the Light promises heartache and heartbreak, through the veil of the short life Hank Williams lived. It’s a sequence not meant to be taken too literally, as I can’t imagine Hank having played before an audience, without guitar, under a spotlight, singing sadder than his lyrics, as the camera twirls around him. It’s an ecstatic truth revealed. He’s more than his persona here; he’s a silhouette of himself. A spirit, living within the words of his songs, spooking the ears of everyone listening.
From there, we move to domestic annoyances and general stresses. We see Hank’s first marriage devolve almost as it starts, by way of mediocre arguments, pissing contests and career goals. His wife calls him a “son of a bitch” more times than he calls her “baby.” But why? What exactly has he done to her? He drinks a little bit, makes a few jokes and faces adversity in his work, but no drama worthy of breaking up over. Was there required reading for moviegoers prior to watching?
I Saw the Light makes a nice promise, only to break it early on. It’s a movie of disjointed and misguided ideas and notions. For every time it tries to emphasize how much of a wreck Hank is and becomes, we are left wondering why that is. Oh, because he drinks like a fish? Do you mind exploring that some? Perhaps expanding on that? Don’t hold your breath, I’m afraid.
Hank Williams is a popular genius and a mess of a human, and that’s all you need to know, in the most thick headed and inarticulate of ways.
Tom Hiddleston as Williams does his damndest to bring out SOME revelatory and relatable answers. When performing the songs, Hiddleston will do a slight shimmy with his legs, in rhythm and step. When singing, he punctuates with very wide smiles, exposing his teeth and, more importantly, something almost sinister. Beneath the disguise of melody is a deep depression and mental illness, which only comes out between the lines. In these bits, he’s reminiscent of someone with a mania about him.
Two moments lend a spark of fire to an otherwise cold, cold film. In one, just before a recording, Hank says some good words to his band about how easy that’ll be. A band member smiles, and states “It’s always easy, ain’t it?” Hiddleston whips his neck around and stares deeply into his and our eyes. It’s short but suggests much about how Hank cared about his work, both as a job and as an outlet. In another scene, during a party, his wife finds him playing with the garage door opener. He’s laughing and smirking, almost uncontrollably, while she is unamused as per usual. I’m sure some will see this merely as him being drunk and avoiding the crowd, but I got hints of manic behavior going on. Strong hints.
Hiddleston expresses such shame, guilt and especially a sad out of control aspect to Williams. It’s a performance that goes above and beyond the call of the script or the director. Hiddleston elevated I Saw the Light from the sewer and into the gutter. At the very least, it’ll get some sun. And, at the very least, the gutter makes poetic sense. Talk about an ecstatic truth.
2 / 5 *s
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