Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle’s impressive debut from the director’s chair on the life of Miles Davis, showed just what can be done with the biopic sub-genre; thriving in the essence of the subject and making for a spontaneous, unstructured (and somewhat untrue) picture that was gloriously reflective of the musician’s unpredictable jazz compositions. So by that token, perhaps Marc Abraham’s I Saw the Light – chronicling the short life of the renowned, influential American country-western singer Hank Williams – will be a more conventional, orderly picture, and regrettably, it is just that.
Tom Hiddleston takes on the leading role, as we meet Williams in his early 20s, married to the beautiful, if questionable singer, Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen). While the pair’s tempestuous marriage appears to be on the brink of breaking point, his career is going in exactly the opposite direction, gaining much acclaim and a number of hit singles. But the more successful he gets, the more he starts to drink, and he watches on as both his career and family are jeopardised accordingly.
Though a musician who touched the hearts of millions then, and has continued to do so throughout the last half a century – the story of Hank Williams is not a particularly fascinating one. Lifelong fans will undoubtedly be curious as to the inner workings of the artist, but for those coming in blind, we’re left to deal with a story of a man with relationship woes and an affliction for alcohol – which simply isn’t enough to sustain this narrative. Even fans may find themselves disappointed with the endeavour too, for we never really look into the music, getting no sense for his musical inspirations: what was behind the creation of these popular songs. The performances are impressive of course, and though Hiddleston proves he can embody this figure in such an accomplished fashion, and with a good singing voice to boot, it still isn’t quite the same as William’s indelible vocals, which devalues the scenes when he is performing to large crowds.
The film simply needs a focus, moving between an array of themes and never quite feeling like we have substantially covered any of them. It does appear that the marriage between Hank and Audrey is the prevalent topic, but even that becomes sidetracked as we progress. That being said, looking at the chasm between the career and a marriage of a popular musician made for such absorbing cinema in Walk the Line, which worked – but that was more thanks to the terrific screenplay, which this title is regrettably without.