The 400-Word Review: I Saw the Light

By Sean Collier

March 31, 2016

This one's going out to the Avengers.

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You’ll forgive me if I’m relying on generalizations, here, but I think I know what the trouble is with I Saw the Light, the mostly lovely new biopic of country music icon Hank Williams.

It didn’t really have a director.

Now, that’s not to say that I Saw the Light isn’t good; it’s actually compelling and watchable, with brilliant performances. And I can think of many big-screen biographies I didn’t enjoy nearly as much. I’d recommend the film.

But since seeing it, I’ve been trying to figure out why I didn’t enjoy it more. Tom Hiddleston’s work as Williams rivals nearly any interpretation of an iconic musician I can name. Elizabeth Olsen is just as strong as Audrey Sheppard Williams; there is much more fire in her than in Reese Witherspoon’s Oscar-winning turn as June Carter Cash, to draw an obvious parallel. And while I Saw the Light is bogged down a bit by a reliance on faux-documentary interview footage, the pace and drive of the narrative are strong; this is a film that does not get bogged down in its own story.

What’s more, I Saw the Light has the temerity to eschew many normal hallmarks of the music biopic genre; we’re not told why Hank Williams mattered or shown every moment of his sonic and personal development. We’re given the important parts of the story.

But there’s not really a director at the helm. There’s a producer playing director.


That’s the part that you’ll have to forgive me for; I’m casting aspersions on producers as a class. But it just makes sense. Marc Abraham — here producer, director and writer — is accomplished at the first of those three roles, with credits including The Hurricane, Air Force One, Dawn of the Dead, Children of Men and more. This is only his sophomore effort as a director, however, after the coolly received Flash of Genius.

Here, he’s assembled all the right parts — cast, subject, story, cinematographer (Dante Spinotti). He’s a producer, and he has produced. He just can’t quite seem to turn the separate ingredients into a stew.

Because that’s what the director does.

Again, this is a good movie, and certainly worth seeing. But it’s also one of those cases where I’m left bemoaning the movie that might’ve happened with a more artful hand at the wheel. It’s good enough, but we might’ve missed out on great.

My Rating: 7/10

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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