Country-music devotees will either love or hate this speculative account of the last three days in the life of Hank Williams, the substance-abusing singer-songwriter who died after a still-mysterious beating on a road trip at age 29. On one hand, The Last Ride, directed with cheap, TV-style efficiency by Harry Thomason of Designing Women fame, takes high-test liberties with the facts, most egregiously by changing the name and social class of the teen (Jesse James) hired to shuttle the music legend he fails to recognize (an absurd embellishment) to a pair of gigs. On the other, it portrays Williams (Henry Thomas) in a generally sympathetic light without whitewashing his vice-loving, belligerent ways or mythologizing them in a bid for postmortem psychoanalysis. It also posits a pretty reasonable explanation for that beating and gives Thomas—too fit for the role, but he's got the dopey wolf's grin down—a chance to leave E.T.'s Elliott behind for good; the guy acts his guts out. The Last Ride's central, Scent of a Woman-like dynamic isn't biopic bullshit on the surreal level of 1964's Your Cheatin' Heart (starring George Hamilton, for God's sake), but a deeper, fresher perspective might have given The Last Ride a better shot at being, cinematically speaking, the last word on the troubled superstar.
Thomas acts his guts out as Williams.
Opens Fri., Aug. 24 at Sundance Cinemas. Rated PG-13. 102 minutes.