More credit is always given to actors when they do the singing in a biopic about a famous musician. Gary Busey picked up an Oscar nomination for crooning in “The Buddy Holly Story.” Jamie Foxx won an Oscar for a similar performance in “Ray.”
Tom Hiddleston, best known for his wicked portrayal of Loki in the “Thor” movies, takes on the singing duties as part of his performance as Hank Williams in “I Saw the Light.” He gets points for trying to mimic the singer’s unique style. But the movie is so weak on story that no amount of musical performances can hide its flaws.
The most sour notes in “I Saw the Light” come from the script by director Marc Abraham. Instead of building a solid foundation of why Williams chased a musical career as shown through the influences in his early years, Abraham jumps into the story with Williams as an adult.
The early years for Williams were so interesting they would have made for a full movie on their own. From his battle with spina bifida occulta to the family losing everything in a fire, Williams had the kind of childhood that makes for great movie material. Sadly, Abraham elects to spend more time on staging musical numbers.
Even the focus on the adult life of Williams comes across like an abbreviated tale. The story skips casually through his marital woes, battles to find respect in the music world and continuing fight with back pain. Just when a story point starts to get interesting, Abraham shifts the attention to another musical performance.
This would have worked better had Hiddleston been able to fully capture Williams’ style. The British actor has a good voice and does a passable job with the music. The problem is Williams has such a distinct voice that even the best Hiddleston version will never come close.
When the musical numbers are thrust into such a prominent place, the movie’s flaws become magnified. That closer look chips away at what is generally a good performance by Hiddleston.
The actor gives his best whether its acting or singing. He just never gets enough acting space to really show more.
In almost every way, the term “acceptable” fits aspects of “I Saw the Light.” Elizabeth Olsen does an acceptable job as the wife of Williams, who used her relationship to push her own career. She’s OK, but she never provides the sense of manipulation and entitlement that she needed to play as a counter to the good ol’ boy ways of Williams.
The supporting cast, which includes such dependable actors as Cherry Jones, Bradley Whitford and David Krumholtz, turns in work that gets a passing grade. They just keep getting shoved aside for yet another song by Hiddleston.
A little more tweaking and twanging would have helped elevate “I Saw the Light” from coming across as a low-budget cable movie. As it stands, this biopic never does full justice to the singer’s story or voice.