The movie opens beautifully, with a slow, steadycam circling around our main character performing an acoustic song. The opening introduces us to and sets us up for the gorgeousness that is Tom Hiddleston as Williams: unflinchingly unapologetic with an attention to nuance in character that successfully convinces the viewer that Hiddleston is indeed Williams, the one aspect of this character in which the film didn’t fail. It also sets up a motif in coloring: the movie was drenched in glowy, yellow sepia tones, seemingly vintage and romantic, hinting at the idealized, romantic view that the public of the time had about Williams’ personal life, while, in actuality, it was just the opposite; this caused the yellow hues to then take on a dusty, sickly quality, symbolizing the deterioration of Williams’ life and health.
The framing was interesting throughout the film, employing much use of the close-up, with most central focuses right in the center of the frame. It seemed like the use of close-up was trying to bring us in, to get the viewer closer to the characters; however, it never really got us there. One of my biggest issues with the film is that I never much felt for them. Meaning, I know, just from life and experience as a human being, when things are supposed to be sad: when there was divorce or death portrayed, I was sad because I knew to be sad and of course it’s sad, seeing that this is a portrayal of someone’s real life. But the movie never made me feel sad. The film always hinted at attempting to take us on the emotional roller coaster that appeared to be Williams’ life, with ratcheting highs and deep, deep lows, filled with catharsis and movie-positioning that induce feeling in its viewers, what we have come to expect from movie-viewing experiences. But the film never really went there with all the emotional, cinematic material they had to work with. It mainly focused on Williams’ marital issues, but didn’t show much of them, resulting in supposedly traumatic or upsetting events seeming slightly sudden, happenstance, non-sequitur, and kind of weird. And that choice in focus led the filmmakers to miss a focus in and portrayal of the very reason upon which Williams made his fame: songwriting. We never saw the creative process behind Williams’ music; instead, the film just occasionally featured a performance from Hiddleston, only because the filmmakers felt they couldn’t completely ignore it. And even though he was drinking in most of the scenes, the film apparently trying to depict Williams’ downfall through addiction, they didn't even do his love affair with alcohol justice, depicting drunken scenes as a device to move us through the story, without much build to them, or fallout or portrayal of consequence after them. In fact, the pace was like that of the Alabama Williams was from - no highs or lows or drama, just moving along slowly to move, one foot plodding in front of the other, no sense of purpose or destination, like the heat rising off the street on a summer day.
Apparently, I Saw the Light was originally intended for an Oscar campaign. And while Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen, who played Williams wife, could have made the leading actor shortlists easily, with their depth in portrayal and disappearances into the characters, the vehicle for these winning performances was much, much less. The film had a great source material – a short, tragic life of a musical genius, riddled with addiction, affairs, and enigma – but didn’t do its icon of focus justice, making bad decisions in focus, storytelling, and script. All in all, it was very nothing. A nothing story, set to a nothing pace, saying nothing of importance about a very important person, who in fact revolutionized and helped define, spread, and create a genre. It was in effect, worse than merely flat-out bad: it was a disappointment. At least, it’ll inspire me to listen to Hank Williams’ eloquent music. Maybe I’ll learn something about him that way.