Played by the num­bers

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

I SAW THE LIGHT

Di­rected by Marc Abraham. Star­ring Tom Hid­dle­ston, El­iz­a­beth Olsen, Bradley Whit­ford, David Krumholtz, Cherry Jones. 15A cert, gen­eral re­lease, 123 min

Is there a bloke at the wrong end of Sun­set Blvd sell­ing generic mu­sic-biopic tem­plates from the back of his sedan?

You know how these go. Chuck Biopic has early, mod­est suc­cess and shacks up with his teenage sweet­heart, Sally Un­der­writ­ten. While out on the road, he ro­mances var­i­ous “loose women” and de­vel­ops an ad­dic­tion to pills-coke-smack. This causes Sally to throw milk jugs at his head and ul­ti­mately leads to a sep­a­ra­tion that never fully takes. Then he dies young.

One need only fill in the gaps with the rel­e­vant coun­try songs, rap num­bers or soul bel­ters and sit back in an­tic­i­pa­tion of in­evitable Os­cars.

If they were to give out awards for the most by-the-num­bers re­lease of the year (some may face­tiously ar­gue that the Academy does just that), then this study of Hank Williams would take some beat­ing. Miles Ahead, the re­cent Miles Davis film, isn’t great, but at least Don Cheadle made a bloody ef­fort.

The only at­tempt at in­no­va­tion here is the spo­radic in­clu­sion of mono­chrome talk­ing heads from key fig­ures in Williams’s life. There is no other sug­ges­tion that we are look­ing at a mock doc­u­men­tary. Were they left over from an ear­lier, marginally more in­ter­est­ing pass at the same ma­te­rial?

The film would ac­tu­ally be more en­ter­tain­ing if Tom Hid­dle­ston were a lit­tle less ef­fec­tive in the lead role. The teeth aren’t nearly ir­reg­u­lar enough, but oth­er­wise the English­man does a very ser­vice­able im­pres­sion of coun­try’s holy rebel. If he were ter­ri­ble we might, at least, have some­thing to laugh at.

We hear noth­ing about the ori­gins of Williams’s sound. We get no sense that the singer (who, eerily, died on new year’s day of the year Sam Phillips dis­cov­ered Elvis) was a key har­bin­ger of the new mu­sic to come. I Saw the Light is just a dull plod through the sta­tions of the biopic cross. If you miss this one, there will be an­other along in a mo­ment.

Star­ring Sally Mod­est and Chuck Biopic, err... El­iz­a­beth Olsen and Tom Hid­dle­ston

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