Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: The Last Ride

Alabama teen drives country-music star Hank Williams on his fatal trip to a concert in West Virginia. Squeaky-clean period tale is well-mounted but thin.

June 21, 2012

-By Daniel Eagan


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1349568-Last_Ride_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

The legend of Hank Williams' life is almost as important to country music as his remarkable songs. Dead at 29 from an overdose of chloral hydrate, Williams is a sort of role model for hard-living, self-destructive musicians who are, as his son put it, "whiskey bent and hell bound." You won't find much of the real Williams—by most accounts an aggressive alcoholic and inveterate womanizer—in The Last Ride, a recreation of the singer's final, fatal road trip. Instead, this somber, carefully shot biopic presents the star as a benign, rueful musician full of common-sense advice for his companions.

Just like My Week with Marilyn, screenwriters Howie Klausner and Dub Cornett use an outsider to give viewers a peek at how a star lived. In this case, depressed teen Silas Coombs (Jesse James), an auto mechanic in Alabama's worst gas station, takes a job to drive "Mr. Wells" from Alabama to a New Year's Eve show in West Virginia. The only advice from Stan (Ray McKinnon), a manager: "Don't let him drink."

Coombs in the only person in the state who doesn't know that "Wells"` is a pseudonym for Hank Williams (Henry Thomas), staging a comeback after two failed marriages and a string of broken concert dates. Nearly crippled by a congenital back condition, suffering from alcoholism and drug dependency, and sporting a consumptive cough, Williams starts out surly, nipping from a flask and firing a handgun at other motorists.

Soon he's mellowed enough to reminisce from the back seat about life on the road. Bad weather forces them to spend the night in Chattanooga, where Williams gets a vitamin B-12 injection and drinks himself into a stupor. Other stops include a general store and a county courthouse, where Coombs is hit with a speeding fine.

Through it all, Williams sits stiffly and coughs a lot. He also bemoans his lack of friends, and warns Coombs that fame and fortune "don't matter...not a damn bit of it matters." In a honky tonk outside Mt. Hope, Williams urges Coombs to strike up a romance with Wanda (a woefully miscast Kaley Cuoco), a local gas station attendant.

As the singer, Thomas adopts a stiff gait and the kind of makeup you'd find on a corpse. He doesn't sing, although generally poor covers of Williams songs are sprinkled through the soundtrack. But the actor simply isn't a convincing drunk or hellion—like the film's cars and props, he is too scrubbed and antiseptic. Director Harry Thomason tends to dial back the other performers until they barely register.

Producer Benjy Gaither is the son of Bill Gaither, a significant figure in contemporary country gospel music, which may account for The Last Ride's sympathetic, upbeat tone. There's nothing wrong per se with turning Williams and his last days into a tidy cautionary tale. But the film bears little relation to what actually happened, and doesn't have much of interest to say about the singer. Williams, one of the great artists of the 20th century, deserves better.


Film Review: The Last Ride

Alabama teen drives country-music star Hank Williams on his fatal trip to a concert in West Virginia. Squeaky-clean period tale is well-mounted but thin.

June 21, 2012

-By Daniel Eagan


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1349568-Last_Ride_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

The legend of Hank Williams' life is almost as important to country music as his remarkable songs. Dead at 29 from an overdose of chloral hydrate, Williams is a sort of role model for hard-living, self-destructive musicians who are, as his son put it, "whiskey bent and hell bound." You won't find much of the real Williams—by most accounts an aggressive alcoholic and inveterate womanizer—in The Last Ride, a recreation of the singer's final, fatal road trip. Instead, this somber, carefully shot biopic presents the star as a benign, rueful musician full of common-sense advice for his companions.

Just like My Week with Marilyn, screenwriters Howie Klausner and Dub Cornett use an outsider to give viewers a peek at how a star lived. In this case, depressed teen Silas Coombs (Jesse James), an auto mechanic in Alabama's worst gas station, takes a job to drive "Mr. Wells" from Alabama to a New Year's Eve show in West Virginia. The only advice from Stan (Ray McKinnon), a manager: "Don't let him drink."

Coombs in the only person in the state who doesn't know that "Wells"` is a pseudonym for Hank Williams (Henry Thomas), staging a comeback after two failed marriages and a string of broken concert dates. Nearly crippled by a congenital back condition, suffering from alcoholism and drug dependency, and sporting a consumptive cough, Williams starts out surly, nipping from a flask and firing a handgun at other motorists.

Soon he's mellowed enough to reminisce from the back seat about life on the road. Bad weather forces them to spend the night in Chattanooga, where Williams gets a vitamin B-12 injection and drinks himself into a stupor. Other stops include a general store and a county courthouse, where Coombs is hit with a speeding fine.

Through it all, Williams sits stiffly and coughs a lot. He also bemoans his lack of friends, and warns Coombs that fame and fortune "don't matter...not a damn bit of it matters." In a honky tonk outside Mt. Hope, Williams urges Coombs to strike up a romance with Wanda (a woefully miscast Kaley Cuoco), a local gas station attendant.

As the singer, Thomas adopts a stiff gait and the kind of makeup you'd find on a corpse. He doesn't sing, although generally poor covers of Williams songs are sprinkled through the soundtrack. But the actor simply isn't a convincing drunk or hellion—like the film's cars and props, he is too scrubbed and antiseptic. Director Harry Thomason tends to dial back the other performers until they barely register.

Producer Benjy Gaither is the son of Bill Gaither, a significant figure in contemporary country gospel music, which may account for The Last Ride's sympathetic, upbeat tone. There's nothing wrong per se with turning Williams and his last days into a tidy cautionary tale. But the film bears little relation to what actually happened, and doesn't have much of interest to say about the singer. Williams, one of the great artists of the 20th century, deserves better.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

The Congress
Film Review: The Congress

Part live-action, part cornea-searing animation, this cinematic overload is ambitious but ultimately fatigues as it plays with the intriguing notion of a fading Hollywood star selling rights so her cyberspace avatar can rise to superstardom and stay forever young in virtual reality. Flashy animation and cynical stabs at celebrity culture and movie-studio finagling keep things lively for a while. More »

The Last of Robin Hood
Film Review: The Last of Robin Hood

Serviceable vehicle for a salacious story. More »

Last Weekend
Film Review: Last Weekend

A sort of modern Chekhovian study of family tensions over a country weekend, this indie drama is very pretty to look at and at times disarming, but needed more punch. More »

The Notebook
Film Review: The Notebook

An aloof adaptation of Agota Kristof's best-seller that's technically impressive but precludes audience identification. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Film Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Neither significantly better nor worse than its predecessor, the belated Sin City sequel is more of a repeat, rather than a continuation, of the original. More »

If I Stay
Film Review: If I Stay

Delivers as promised. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here