If you haven’t yet heard of Tom Hiddleston, you soon will.
Some may know him as the evil Loki from the Thor films, or recognize him as F. Scott Fitzgerald in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. Others perhaps saw him as the empathetic Captain Nicholls in Steven Spielberg’s epic War Horse.
And like fellow Brit actors Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch, he has legions of lady fans–who scratch their heads as to why the rest of the world might not yet know their favorite obsession. (Cumberbatch fans call themselves “Cumberbitches,” Hiddleston’s go by “Hiddlestoners”).
They need not worry.
Americans who don’t yet know him by name are bound to start taking notice. Hiddleston stars as famed country crooner Hank Williams in I Saw The Light, premiering tonight, and next year he'll star as an explorer in Kong: Skull Island alongside Oscar winner Brie Larson.
I Saw the Light may not be the most exciting biopic to hit the screens as of late (some have called it a “slog”), but Hiddleston truly nails the troubled singer, who had 11 albums and 35 billboard hits in his short career, from “Lovesick Blues” to "Your Cheatin’ Heart.”
From the opening scene where he sings a heartfelt rendition of “Cold, Cold Heart” alone on a stool, to the his fateful last day (I'm not giving away anything here when I say he died at age 29) and all the boozing, womanizing, and fighting in between, Hiddleston seems to be channeling Williams from the great beyond—doing all the singing himself and even perfecting a Southern drawl. No easy feat for a Brit.
Williams’s story is a classic rags-to-riches tale of a star who can’t seem to handle the pressure of fame and sabatoges himself at every turn. There are alcohol-fueled binges, missed shows, one night stands, a failed marriage, an overbearing mother, and plenty of business problems on his journey to the Grand Ol’ Opry and beyond.
But the film fails to delve deep enough into his psyche and many questions are left unanswered—much as a reporter in the film (David Krumholtz) can’t get any insight when he tries to interview the singer, the audience is left to ponder just what makes Williams tick.
His manager (played by Bradley Whitford), for example, gets him a meeting with a big Hollywood producer, but Williams refuses to take off his hat at the producer's request or even to play nice. The tense scene ends and we have no idea what happened. We are simply left to assume that he blew his chance at the big screen, but we don’t know why. A rehab scene is similarly vague.
There are also odd black-and-white “faux documentary” interview clips thrown with business associates that feel almost like afterthoughts, with no real explanation as to who is doing the interviewing or why.
But the acting is solid, the concert scenes entertaining, and the cinematography compelling. The first bar scene, in particular, makes you feel as if you are actually there, as the camera pans over beer bottles, tired faces sucking in cigarette smoke, and a lanky Williams crooning on stage. The scene where a 21-year-old Williams marries his first wife Audrey May in an Alabama gas station garage in the pouring rain is also visually memorable.
Elizabeth Olsen shines as the pretty (and manipulative) May, who mistakenly believes her voice is as strong as her husband’s–which not surprisingly creates some serious tension between he and his bandmates, and the manager of the local radio station. And Maddie Hasson who plays his second wife Billie Jean, is definitely one to watch.
But it’s Hiddleston’s film and his “Hiddlestoners” will not be disappointed by his performance. Catch I Saw The Light in theaters, starting today, March 25.