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I Saw the Light, a biopic about 1940s/1950s American country music singer Hank Williams, had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday and screened again at the fest on Saturday. The film — which was adapted from Colin Escott‘s Williams biography and directed by Marc Abraham, a prolific producer whose only other directorial credit is 2008’s Flash of Genius — has received mixed notices, taking flack for its sluggish pacing, a superfluous framing device and its resemblance to a plethora of other recent films about troubled musicians, such as 2005’s similar-sounding Walk the Line.
That being said, praise has been widespread for Tom Hiddleston‘s portrayal of Williams, who, following a short but sensational career, became one of the first big music stars to die young from drink and drugs. Hiddleston, a Brit who looks eerily like Williams when clad in a cowboy hat, mastered not only his character’s southern twang but also capably performed all of his songs in the film. It was an inspired decision to cast the up-and-comer, who has a kind and gentle face, as such a volatile character — even if the suave 34-year-old looks considerably older than 29, the age at which Williams died, or 23, an age at which Williams identifies himself at one point in the film.
The film’s best moments are those in which Hiddleston shares the screen with Elizabeth Olsen, the talented actress who plays Williams’ beautiful first wife, Audrey, an ambitious but talent-lacking singer. Hiddleston and Olsen, who are rumored to be an off-screen couple, have terrific on-screen chemistry. Indeed, a few of the of their scenes together — when he casually denigrates her abilities, when he attempts to reconcile with her after a separation, when she tells him she’s pregnant — make the film worth watching and preserve some possibility that awards voters will set aside their frustrations with the film and recognize the bona fides of its lead performances.
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