The sorry demise of country music legend Hank Williams is depicted in The Last Ride
, a 2011 drama directed by Harry Thomason. This is not your typical music biopic; whereas, say, Walk the Line
and Coal Miner's Daughter
limn the lives and careers of their central characters (Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn, respectively), this film takes place over the course of less than three days, focusing on the relationship between Williams (ably portrayed by Henry Thomas, now in his 40s and three decades removed from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
) and the bewildered young man (Jesse James, playing a character called Silas) hired to drive the singer from Alabama to a couple of gigs in West Virginia and Ohio at the tail end of 1952. By this time, Williams, just 29 years old, was a dying man, a raging alcoholic and druggie who also suffered from debilitating back pain, all of which made him notoriously unreliable. Add to that some nasty winter weather and a few unplanned escapades along the way (a brush with the police, a bar fight), and it's obvious early on that they'll never make the West Virginia show; they don't make it to Ohio, either, as Williams dies in the back seat of his fancy Cadillac en route. Central to the tale are the life lessons delivered by the veteran star, who's alternately cantankerous and charming, to his callow young driver, and those scenes are well played. On the down side, we hear nary a note of the real Hank Williams's music, as his songs (including classics like "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," "Hey, Good Lookin'," and "Cold, Cold Heart") are all performed by others, including Hank's daughter, Jett Williams; Thomas's Williams never so much as picks up a guitar. What's more, viewers are obliged to buy into the film's principal conceit: not once do we hear the name "Hank Williams" (he's referred to as "Mr. Wells" or "Luke"), and of all the characters we meet along the way, only one seems to recognize him. Even Silas has no idea who his passenger is, which is one of several instances where the script diverges from the facts; the real-life driver, Charles Carr, had known the singer for most of his life (Carr died in July 2013). A minor quibble? Sure--especially in view of the filmmakers' cheeky opening disclaimer ("much of what follows is true"). And the rest of Williams's life has been chronicled elsewhere, including in the 1964 film Your Cheatin' Heart
, starring George Hamilton. As it is, The Last Ride
is an enjoyable and unusual look at an important and hugely influential artist. --Sam Graham
Based on the controversial life story of singer-songwriter, Hank Williams, THE LAST RIDE tells the powerful tale of country music's original bad boy. The man, the myth and the music come together when Williams travels from Alabama to a series of New Years shows in West Virginia and Ohio. This remarkable journey leads straight into the heart and soul of the legendary performer...as he takes one last shot at redemption. Featuring all-new versions of Hank Williams' greatest songs, this emotional tale of hope and truth is one you'll never forget.