Bitch all you want about a British actor, Tom Hiddleston — Loki from The Avengers, for fuck’s sake — taking on the role of Alabama-born Hank Williams, the singer-songwriter who influenced generations of country music performers who came after. Sure, Hiddleston is 35 and playing a music icon who died, in 1953 at the age of 29, from heart failure induced by alcohol and prescription drugs (he had back problems since childhood). But haters should snap out of it. Hiddleston is a virtuoso and he gives the role his considerable all, including singing such Hank hits as “You’re Cheatin’ Heart,” “Lovesick Blues” and the title song in a voice that persuasively suggests the real thing. It helps that he’s singling live with a backup band. Hiddleston is not what’s wrong with this movie. But damn near everything else is.
Writer-director Marc Abraham has made the boneheaded decision to focus on Williams as a horndog boozer, leaving the creation of his music as an afterthought. Wait, what? You heard me. Instead of discovering something about the exhilaration Williams found in carving out his feelings in song, we get endless scenes of marital discord and drunken self pity. What a pitch for a movie. Come on. Honey, let’s go watch Loki cry in his beer.
Abraham introduces such characters as Lillie (Cherry Jones), Hank’s mom and manager, and Fred Rose (Bradley Whitford), his music producer. But no one sticks around long enough to sink in. A rare bright spot comes from Elizabeth Olsen who gives us a rooting interest in Audrey, Williams’ first wife, a divorced firecracker who longed for a singing career herself despite a lack of talent. (Their son, Hank Williams. Jr. would make his own mark as a musician.) But mostly we hear about how Williams is always late for gigs, shaky on his feet, and usually passed out on booze when he’s not cheating on three wives who can’t melt his cold, cold heart. That’s a dreary way to make a movie about a self-proclaimed hillbilly who wrote joyously of “settin’ the woods on fire.” All we get here is dry ash.