‘I Saw the Light’
Director: Marc Abrahamson
Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen
2 (out of 5) Globes
The opening of “I Saw the Light” is downright incantatory, as though it was trying to summon the ghost of Hank Williams. Tom Hiddleston, as the country music god, stands in the middle of a stage, bathed in heavenly amber light, crooning one of his hits a cappella to a rapt, silent crowd. The camera slowly spins around him, drawing us into the English actor’s uncanny vocal impersonation. His voice is at once operatic and good ol’ boy — polished and beautiful but also unassuming and deceptively plain.
Sadly, this is a tease: Immediately following this overture “I Saw the Light” settles into the thumb-twiddling groove of a Wikipedia biopic, telling us that this happened, then this happened, then this happened, right until the legend’s (of course) tastefully elided death at 29. Williams struggles to get into the Grand Ole Opry. Then he tries to get out. He has a raucous marriage to Elizabeth Olsen’s Audrey, only to shack up with other women. He gets drunk and hooked on painkillers. He’s a genius and a jerk who destroys his body but not before releasing 11 number one Country & Western hits. We’re supposed to adore him and hate him.
Hiddleston is spot-on, magnetic and repulsive at the same time, and Olsen is a fine foil, challenging him with every amped-up encounter. But the movie is flat and plodding — the very type of film the John C. Reilly-starring parody “Walk Hard” was supposed to have wiped out of existence. Things perk up whenever he takes the stage or takes on a nosy journalist (David Krumholtz), who thinks he can figure out Williams through his music and invasive, tabloidy questions. But the movie is just as invasive and presumptuous, making Don Cheadle’s forthcoming “Miles Ahead” — a crazy renegade Miles Davis biopic, featuring an actual chase scene and shoot-out — look even more necessary than it is already.