I don't think I've ever caught a movie on opening day, but I couldn't resist fighting the crowd to see "I Saw The Light" on opening night. Wasn't much crowd to fight. I was the first to purchase tickets for the 7:15 show at the Warren. The reviews haven't been good, but I want to start out and say if you are a fan of Hank Williams, go see the movie. I read all the books and watch all the movies. I appreciate any attempt to keep the music of Hank alive and on the forefront. The last few days, there has been a lot of talk about Hank and this latest film. Sixty-three years after his death, and we are still talking about him and the media is putting out stories on this latest biopic about the greatest hillbilly singer ever. Over sixty studio recordings of which over 30 charted. No one else has done that! It was a short career, but will probably require a mini-series to actually tell the story to meet our expectations.
Tom Hiddleston's performance is commendable. He has the look and is a great actor. He also had the benefit of working with country legend Rodney Crowell to prepare for the film. With today's recording technology, the music will be perfect. However, Tom fails to capture that "tear" (as in crying tear) in his voice that Hank had. He didn't appear to be about to lose control of his emotions when singing "Lovesick Blues" or "Cold Cold Heart". The music is great, with some of the best sidemen in Nashville contributing. Tom's movement while singing seemed a bit awkward. It seemed instead of bouncing up and down, like Hank did from exerting the emotion in his music, Tom had a choreographed circular motion. However, he looked like Hank. I became immediately jealous of his perfect "Hank" nose (which makes mine look like Jamie Farr). I give Rodney an "A" for his production of the music.
The movie tends to jump around all of the dark characteristics of Hank without fully exploring them. These "dark" areas haunted Hank during about 5% of his time of stardom (in my opinion) while the other 95% was great music and good times (albeit in pain). While the Colin Escott autobiography is considered one of the best, other books by band members Jerry Rivers and Don Helms give a more accurate allocation of the fun Hank vs the dark Hank. The film missed an opportunity to create an epic moment during Hank's opry debut when he reportedly performed numerous encores of Lovesick Blues (and I've heard first hand reports from Martha White, who happens to be my Mom, who was there that night). I'm not a director of any sorts, but I would have used the title song performance of "La Bamba" as my example of creating such an epic moment. I think they also missed an opportunity to tie in the hospital scene of Hank bringing Audrey roses resulting in his writing Cold Cold Heart. And why not some drama surrounding Lilly boarding a pregnant Bobbie Jett and Billie Jean at the same time? Or the drama of the three way fight between Lilly, Billie Jean, and Audrey after Hank is dead, resulting in Lilly and Audrey "tag teaming" against Billie Jean. Or the birth of Bobbie's baby, Cathy, just days after Hank's funeral with Bobbie turning over custody to Lilly before moving to California?
I didn't see any glaring inaccuracies, probably due to Colin Escott being an advisor. They give a disclaimer at the end of changing some timelines for dramatization, but none immediately stood out to me (possibly leaving out The Willis Brothers as the first band he recorded with on Sterling instead of Red Foley's band?). The wardrobe, instruments, amps, and cars were fun to watch in the film along with the vintage scenes from the opry. Audrey's (Elizabeth Olsen) vocals were very close to real, in my recollection of her recordings, so I'll give Elizabeth an A also. I'm not a professional movie critic, but if I were directing it, I would have added a "National Lampoon" ending like Animal House and Stripes where a short bio tells what happened to each character after Hank's death. Toby Marshall, Audrey, Bobbie's baby, Bocephus, and Billie Jean are stories in themselves.
Again, please go see the movie. Maybe the movie's success will inspire other artists or even a mini-series (I'll nominate Jason Petty to play Hank and maybe he will let me play Big Bill Lister or George Morgan). Or better yet, go buy Colin's book, and Jerry's and Don's and check out Brian Turpen's books.
For what it's worth, that's my review.
Couple more things. Tom's version of the Luke The Drifter recitation was very good. He did better at mimicking Hank's vocal intonations on that number than he did with the regular speaking role. Also, another interesting scene that I would have added would have been Hank's dealings with Jack Ruby in Dallas (and using his alias, Herman P. Willis to avoid him).