With ‘The Last Ride’ now having opened in some major centers including New York, reviews seem largely negative but there is one genuine rave from a respected film critic which I have saved to the end..
Writers are quite dismissive of the script which many think, in the words of Andrew Lapin at National Public Radio is “short on actual information about Hank Williams”, and makes “Hank Williams takes a back seat” in the film. Pretty tough from an organization that is usually a Hank booster.
In a magazine called ‘Film Journal’ Daniel Egan says the “film doesn’t have much of interest about the singer”. And ‘Village Voices’ Mark Holcombe says the movie has “taken liberties with the facts”.
These writers are all concerned, along with I suppose many true Hank Williams’ fans, that the main story is really fictionalized. For example, the character who is the young teenage driver on the fatal trip doesn’t know who Hank Williams is. There is a way too much attention on that character, played by Jesse James, according to a lot of critics. ‘The New York Times’ Jeannette Catsoulis goes so far as to call it a “low budget road movie”.
Another strong criticism and all and writers just hate this,it that no actual Hank Williams’ recordings are used anywhere in the movie. You never hear his voice. The soundtrack, they say, is mediocre and therefore the movie fails to explain who Hank Williams is, and how an important figure in American musical history he has become.
On the positive side, most of the reviewers I have read so far have very positive things to say about Henry Thomas’ portrayal of Hank Williams which clearly rises far above the rest of the movie and makes the best of the weak script.
But there is one movie critic and a pretty important one who must have made the producers overjoyed. Rex Reed a famous film reviewer writing in ‘The New York Observer’ calls Thomas’ performance “a star performance and a poignant experience”. He calls it a “fascinating film, satisfying and sincere”. But he also says the producers should have used original Hank Williams recordings.
Here are a couple of longer quotes to give you the tone of Reed’s rave review.
The Last Ride, carefully directed by Harry Thomason and skillfully written with chords and spaces for humming and breathing by Howie Klausner and Dub Cornett, hauntingly and sensitively negotiates the final three days in the life and death of a legendary character of mythic proportions, warts and all.
Still, it’s a fascinating film that I enjoyed thoroughly. The Last Ride doesn’t come with a break-the-bank budget and full-page marketing displays, but it is well worth looking for if you’re in the mood for a movie that is captivating, an evocation of a time when the South and its music were on the cusp of change, and just a little bit different. It’s satisfying and sincere in ways most of the big-budget junk currently taking up space on summer marquees never dreamed of.
I should say that Reed accepts more of the script as being factual than some of the other critics. But beyond any doubt this is the best written review I have seen so far. The use of a quote from ‘I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry’ in the ‘New York Observer’ headline is heartbreaking.
Here’s a direct quote from the movie that a lot of true Hank Williams’s fans will understand and appreciate. About his career and fame, the script writers have Hank say: “Not a damn bit of it matters for nothin.”