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"The Last Ride" portrays the last days of legendary country western artist Hank Williams who died on New Year's Day in 1952 while traveling to a concert in Canton, Ohio. There is none of the smarmy sentimentality of the 1964 biopic You're Cheatin' Heart starring George Hamilton. Henry Thomas' Williams never sings a line or strums a chord. Instead, we see him staring waxy- eyed from the back seat of his Cadillac as he slowly succumbs to both substance and alcohol abuse and the residual affects of childhood Spinal Bifida. Occasionally he directs a pointed barb toward his newly hired driver who is frantically trying to get his celebrated passenger (the driver never seems to be aware of who his passenger actually is) to the appointed destination. It is this serendipitous pairing and resulting relationship of these two men, one celebrity and the other a ne'er do well, that is the heart, indeed the only real focus, of the film. By fits and turns, what starts as a cold, cold heart towards most of the rest of the world warms to one of a genuine love and respect between two people who can, in the end, truly call each other friends. As far as I know, this film has only shown in Arkansas and Louisiana to date. It deserves a much wider release and more critical review. It is one of the best movies of 2011.
Hank Williams is the one I cite as my favorite singer, period. I was
exposed to the man's beautifully written, elegantly sung music several
years ago, mostly from my grandfather - a connoisseur of classic
country - and haven't stopped listening since. His songs possess a
uniformed honesty and emotional resonance that is greatly lacking in
every genre of music today, regardless of what you're a fan of. His
music hits the warmest notes along with the coldest notes, turning
every song-topic into a ballady, poetic work of incomparable and, for
the time, subversive art. He is a singer that, in my opinion,
contributed more to a genre in sixteen years than some artists do in a
lifetime in the industry.
It would seem that with TimeLife releasing many of Hank Williams' previously unreleased music and interviews and a film even being made on the man that Williams fans are still willing to pay hard-earned money for his work even though he has been dead for decades. I was always sort of mean-spirited to the thought that Johnny Cash could get a brilliantly-made biopic with A-list actors and accolades-galore but the real pioneer, Williams, couldn't so much as get an hour-long TV special about his impact and legacy on a genre.
Well, now he at least has something; a film that details the infamous cross-country trip he took with an ill-prepared soul who wasn't even in store for the mental-strain and time-crunch it would take to get the singer to his shows in the briskest of weather, let alone his death in the backseat of the Cadillac they were driving in. Harry Thomason's The Last Ride proudly boasts its subject as "music's original bad boy" but gives him a film about as tame as a house-cat. This is a tired, by-the-numbers biopic that does little to emphasize the true beauty of Williams' as an artist and makes the young twenty-nine year old seem nothing more than a bitter codger whose achievements and accomplishments as nothing but accidental and a footnote in the creation of a huge, cultural genre.
The plot: Silas (Jesse James), a young mechanic, is given the job as Hank Williams' (referred to as either "Luke" from his pen-name "Luke the Drifter" or "Mr. Wells," as directed by his old driver) driver in the late December month so that he can make his shows in West Virginia and Ohio, respectively. He is implored to prevent Williams, er, Wells from drinking and getting too rowdy, but this man, myth, and legend won't listen to some backwoods hillbilly who don't know nothing' about sorrow and woe. They set off in a bright blue Cadillac and attempt something of a mutual understanding.
Williams is portrayed by Henry Thomas, who looks like 25% Hank Williams and 75% Brad Paisley. It's no bother, though, as he shows his competence for low-key material and humble dialog. However, writers Howard Klausner and Dub Cornett gives Thomas not much of a character. They somehow managed to turn Hank Williams, the godfather of country music and outlaw-isms, into a psychotic, shallow lunatic with a small giddiness for adventure and a caricature to house deep-rooted drug and alcohol problems.
This is one of the strangest biopics in recent memory. It focuses on a huge man in one of his worst times with no indication or backstory on how he exactly got to the lows he is currently in, predicates itself off of an event that is interesting for a certain period of time before it becomes redundant, features a soundtrack of country songs not performed by the original artists, and bears only four songs even written by its subject that aren't even performed by him. The Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line at least found an actor who could sing Cash and sing him soulfully and majestically. The Hank Williams biopic barely even lets the subject's name be uttered at an audible level. What kind of loyalty and respect is that when you make a film about a singer but won't go as far as to let the audience hear one song by the man, let the actor portraying him to sing one song by the man, or even let his name be spoken? The southland is seen in a crisp, highly pictorial light, but it's all too much like a postcard, with little depth or interest in what made Williams truly embrace the culture and the atmosphere of it. The south and its norms played a significant part in Williams' songs and so did the topics of love and loss. Such themes are wholly absent here. I iterate the point that if the film began as a traditional biography, from the beginning to end of its subject life, it would be far more stable and less frazzled. Despite focusing on a specific point in the life of Williams, it still feels thin and unexploited.
The fact that it at least has a potency in its southern visuals and solid direction is all well and good, but to what reward? A bigger Hank Williams fan than me I see soul-crushed and deeply hurt at the wasted opportunity here. A person looking simply for a biopic and a lesson on an extremely important musical and cultural figure will likely be letdown because of the film's lack of humanization or narrative depth. The Last Ride clocks in as one of the most disappointing films of the year. No matter how it struggles and strives, it never got out of its dullness alive.
Starring: Henry Thomas, Jesse James, and Fred Dalton Thompson. Directed by: Henry Thomason.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've already reviewed the other Hank Williams movies, so I must owe
this one a nod. Unfortunately that's the only reason to watch it, IE
that it's specifically about the legendary, self-destructive young
country singer/songwriter. It may provide you with a few snippets you
didn't know already, and will also misinform you. As a drama, TLR only
has the premise of 'get Hank to Charleston sober or you don't get paid'
to provide any tension (they don't, but he does get paid,
anticlimactically). It's a two-hander road movie, essentially.
As a 'docu-drama', again the casting of Hank is problematic, because there's not a lot of interest to be got from the story of a man with multiple addictions who spends the whole movie on the road. Hank himself was a notably tall, shortsighted, skinny geek with big ears - which in some way explains his popular appeal. To see a man physically like that being an all-round PITA (as Hank is portrayed here at first) would have brought home his uniqueness, and made his redemption here to all-round nice guy all the more poignant. The actor here is an ordinarily handsome, strong-looking, forty-year-old, and is just not physically distinctive or vulnerable-looking as Hank was. The movie actually concedes that he's too old by getting him to ask the driver to guess his age. No, you're not shockingly 29, you're obviously not long into middle age.
In the end, the story is diverted into a romance for the driver, and Hank is shown to be all heart ('I've never had a friend'). By this time it's obvious that the movie has fizzled out. The sense of 1953 was completely blown by the roadhouse band who sounded like, well, any roadhouse country band from the last thirty years. Pretty rough.
Factually inaccurate, musically threadbare, and not particularly well cast - this ain't much of a bone to throw at us Hank fans after sixty years. Only worth watching if like me you just want to carp at the way it misses its mark. 'The Show He Never Gave' remains the one to beat.
This was quite an entertaining movie that I will definitely watch again
when I just want to relax and see a 1950's period thought provoking
movie based loosely on the last few days of the great(est) country
singer Hank Williams. Most documented accounts of Hank Williams show
him as a great musical talent with a rebellious streak and often in an
The Last Ride portrays Hank Williams as a very sickly and anemic but valuable musical commodity that needs to be chauffeured to his next music gig. Assigned the task of getting Hank (whose alias whilst travelling is Mr. Wells) to his next concert venue is a young man named Silas played by Jesse James. Silas however has no clue that he is going to be the chauffeur for the great Hank Williams because he has lived a very sheltered life through his early teens without access to any media including even a transistor radio.
Negotiating by telephone with Hank Williams' road manager named O'Keefe played by the seasoned and competent actor Fred Dalton Thomas, Silas tries his darnedest to keep alias Mr. Wells/Hank Williams on the straight and narrow but Mr. Williams notoriety precedes himself and he continues to drink, dance and fight along their road trip.
Silas also gets temporarily distracted by a cute gas station attendant named Wanda played by TV's Big Bang star Kaley Cuoco. Silas tries not to let his heart interfere with his current custodial and driving duties for Mr Williams, but Hank tells Silas that he can survive in a country bar for a few hours without him and Hank advises Silas to take the car and one of Hanks' crisp $100 bills and go out on a date with the young gas attendant and cutie-patootie Wanda, and live life for a few hours and feel true love.
Gradually the bond between Hank and Silas grows, and the movies theme of a music legends star fading slowly, and a young teen who has not experienced life before meeting Mr Williams getting brighter each day intertwine.
This is by no means a movie epic, but a simple heart warming look in to the last few days of music legend and rebel rouser Hank Williams as he comes to realize as he reflects on his unfulfilled life without any true friends.....except maybe, just maybe, his last chauffeur Silas, assigned to taking his new friend and confidant, Mr Williams for his last ride.
When done right some of the best films out there are those dealing with
real life people, especially those that have become icons in the
entertainment industry. For some reason some get the big budget
treatment and others seem to be left to the straight to video or
limited run route. The latest is The Last Ride focusing on Hank
Williams senior, but takes an interesting direction with the tale, but
does it deliver?
The Last Ride follows the end of 1952, with the best years of Hank Williams's career behind him, he hires a local kid to drive him through the Appalachian countryside for a pair of New Year's shows in West Virginia and Ohio. This is one of those films that is a bit hit and miss depending on how you look at it. On one side it is pretty intriguing the direction and time period that they chose to go with to tell this story of Hank Williams. While entertaining it is almost a bit of a letdown as this isn't really a Hank Williams story at all, but still is. This film plays more of a character study that relies mostly on the performances and the direction in hopes to tell this story in a way that is different than most of its kind. Through most of the film the lead character has no idea who he is driving around, which in turn makes it engaging waiting for that big reveal moment when he knows, but sadly that point never comes. There is no doubt he realizes, but it isn't played up as much as you might think and will probably be anticipating. On the flip side the performances are all pretty well executed keeping what could have been a slow boring film engaging and worth the time spent. There are some strange choices regarding green screen at times for some driving moments, but also seems to give it an old film feeling that kind of works with the time period.
This isn't a perfect film by any means, but is interesting on a few levels. The choice of what time they chose to make the focal point and lack of ever using any of him performing in the movie or even the soundtrack makes it a big risk but does manage to payoff. The overall film plays out more like a well-made TV movie, but these days is not necessarily a bad thing. Filled with a great cast and easily one of Henry Thomas' best performances in some time The Last Ride manages to keep your attention and take you on a trip worth riding along for, especially for those that are fans of Williams. Just know going into this film it is not the story of Williams struggle in the music industry, but his struggles in life when it was probably time to hang up his hat.
I've never seen "The Car Hank Died In" in Nashville, so I can't tell if it's accurate. But at one point in the film, Hank was extolling it's virtues as a "ElDorado". The first ElDorados were made in 1953. They made 503, a figure widely argued as plus or minus a couple. It's signature wrap around windshield, the first, was still an inexact science, as glass changes when it cools. The bodies were hand built to fit the windshields, and both were slightly unique. Good movie, though. Since I have to write ten lines I will add my appreciation for the curious relationship between Sir Hank and the Driver. I love Hank's music, and a contemporary reported his reading girls' dime novels and explaining that there was where his lyrics came from. Like..."Your Cheatin' Heart Will Tell On You.". Yes Sir, it will.
It's 1952, small town boy Silas (Jesse James) is hired to drive Hank
Williams (Henry Thomas) to a couple of New Years shows. However snow
and other incidents keep the couple from reaching the shows until it
all ends sadly.
Jesse James is too weak. He's playing the character as if he's a child. Then there is Henry Thomas who is around 40 playing a 29 year old guy. I know Hank Williams is supposed to be wore out at that time. But the story is missing something when Williams looks like he's an old man instead of a wore out young man. There is a difference. Then there is the gorgeous Kaley Cuoco playing country girl running a filling station. She looks too good. She looks like a Hollywood starlet passing for a country girl.
Finally there is the story itself. It lacks any tension. The script is thin on any substance. It tries to ride along with Henry Thomas' posturing. There just isn't enough there to justify a whole movie. Only the ending is there anything dramatic.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you don't know a whole lot about Hank Williams' career, this film isn't going to help. In fact, this could have been written as a fictional story and it would have had as much emotional impact. Maybe more so, knowing now that the picture's title was indeed meant to convey the famed country singer's last ride. Missing for me was any real connection to Williams' career and back story, so I couldn't relate to many aspects of the film to realize if they carried any resonance or not. The most poignant moment for me occurred when Williams (Henry Thomas) struggled to explain to his driver (Jesse James) that he never had a real friend. I just found that so incredibly sad, and attempting to relate that to the real Hank Williams was next to impossible without really knowing the man. Fans of the country singer may have a different take away from mine, but I felt something lacking here. On top of that, it's a real downer when the 'last ride' theme plays itself out. Not recommended for self destructive types.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Not exactly how I envisioned Hank to be but I certainly did not know him. This movie needed Hank Williams music in it to make it complete - and you know he crashed many of bars and took over the stage, he loved to show off, he loved the limelight, he had to be seen and recognised, it it would have been great to have heard Hank tell his story to the young driver, to see flashbacks that lead up to where they were at that point - because to be honest parts of this movie were kind of flat, a little back story would have been a real attention grabber... where was that in this movie? I would give it an 8 - only because I think Hank have more charm & character than they had the actor express. I know this was just his 'last ride' but Hank had a real temper he also was smooth as silk with the ladies and he was one rowdy guy always looking for a fight - I just think maybe they could have let Jessie James add a lil more oomph into this character... this is definitely worth the watch. Kaley Cuoco was awesome in the movie, even though she had a small part.
I want to like any film about Hank Williams,because I am a big fan of the man's music.This fanship comes from my mother,who was a fan as a young girl when he was still alive.Any film or project about the man compels me to watch.Sometimes they impress,sometimes they do not.The Last Ride,I regret to say,does not.While,it has some fine,talented people presenting the story,it is all too obvious that the film was cheaply made.I'm not against low budgeted films because some fine ones have been made,but one of the things that makes a cheaply made film a good film,in my opinion,is the fact it doesn't look cheaply made,and regrettably,this one does.I will give it an A for effort,but will not likely make any effort to see it again.
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