Although his son was making headlines this week, it is Hank Williams Sr. who's looming larger than life this weekend. The fictionalized tale of the country music legend's fateful final days is chronicled in "The Last Ride," which opens Friday at Reading Cinemas.
Actor Henry Thomas (probably best known for his role as Elliott in "E.T.") plays the musical pioneer down on his luck. After a meteoric rise in the country music scene, Williams self-destructed with drugs, alcohol and his mercurial nature, wrecking his personal and professional relationships.
In 1952, the performer booked New Year's shows in West Virginia and Ohio, hiring a young man to drive him from Montgomery, Ala. Jesse James plays Silas, an Alabama mechanic and high school dropout who agrees to drive "Mr. Wells," as Williams identifies himself.
The film follows the pair through some adventures -- a barfight and run-in with the law -- but is more a character study of two men at opposite ends of their lives.
Of course, Williams never makes it to his shows, dying on New Year's Day in 1953 at the age of 29. But the film, depicting Williams at his most vulnerable, hints at the legend he will become.
Williams' daughter, Jett, who has four songs on the soundtrack, praised the film, saying on the website thelastridefilm.com:
"Sometimes life and the efforts of others truly take you by surprise. I know those involved in 'The Last Ride' certainly did, and neither they, nor I, were prepared for it.
"The project, as I see it, was designed to go to the bone marrow of a haunted, misunderstood and abused genius. And by golly, it does.
"I may have been skeptical at first, but I am an ardent supporter of this project and the end result. It is provocative; it is not dark, but it is heavy. And if you remove Hank Williams entirely from the equation, the movie is still a winner in capturing and distilling the interactions of a 29-year-old man dying from the emotional and artistic overload only he feels, as he moves to an afterlife superstardom he would have never understood and youngster who became a man, without a clue as to the vortex he was in."