Netflix UK film review: I Saw the Light
Ivan Radford | On 18, Sep 2016
Director: Marc Abraham
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen
Watch I Saw the Light online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Tom Hiddleston is fantastic. Let’s just put that on record. Whether he’s smirking his way through the cruelty of a Marvel villain, sighing with the tragedy of an immortal vampire, or frowning intensely with the mercurial resolve of a lead in a spy thriller, he’s got that undefinable star quality. Hank Williams had a similar hold over a captive audience – and knew how to work it. So while casting Hiddleston as the country and western singer might seem like a left-field move, Tom turns out to be a mighty fine fit.
His knack for mimicry works wonders here, as he effortlessly emulates the musical stylings of the folk legend, from the guitar strings to the yodelling vocals – the film boldly opens with a shot that places him (and his singing) front and centre, with nothing but a spotlight for accompaniment. Relax, it seems to say. We’re sure Hank done it this way.
That, however, turns out to be the bravest bit of the whole film, which otherwise sticks boringly to every genre cliche you can care to name. (Even some cute little faux-newsreel footage only seems to reinforce how unadventurous the whole affair is, especially hot on the heels of Don Cheadle’s adventurous riff on Miles Davis.) Don’t believe Hank was a genius? Here’s a bit about his drinking to prove it. And another bit about his marriage to his wife. And here’s him womanising while on tour. And a bit of him casually being brilliant in a recording studio.
The movie is so busy ticking off boxes in the years leading up to his death that we don’t get much real insight into Hank at all, especially not his musical ability – which, surely, is the point of a music biopic to begin with. What we do get, though, is a showcase for some talented acting. It’s a pleasure to see Bradley Whitford as Hank’s producer, Fred, while the excellent Elizabeth Olsen brings a scraping edge to her ambitious Audrey, although she gets little more to do than be the Reese Witherspoon to Hiddleston’s Joaquin Phoenix.
The comparison to Walk the Line is unavoidable, due to how slavishly director Marc Abraham follows the same formula. But Hiddleston is good enough to bring depth to even the shallowest scene – and he’s helped by Hank’s music, which remains as magnificently sincere and sad as ever. When he’s not singing, I Saw the Light drifts into the shadow of other, more successful biopics. When he picks up his guitar, though, any Lovesick Blues are swiftly banished.
I Saw the Light is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.