Ranking The New Tom Hiddleston, Don Cheadle, And Ethan Hawke Musical Biopics

Time to see whose real or pretend instrument-playing was most impressive.

Ethan Hawke in Born to Be Blue, Don Cheadle in Miles Ahead, Tom Hiddleston in I Saw the Light.

IFC Films; Sony Pictures Classics; Sony Pictures Classics

As the anger and distress over the upcoming Nina Simone biopic have affirmed, once again, just because a person has had a movieworthy existence does not guarantee they'll get the movie they deserve.

But somehow, sometime during the century-plus in which films have existed, biopics have become shorthand for important cinema, and everyone who's anyone eventually finds their life being reshaped into a sometimes good, sometimes horrendously cliché-ridden movie. This is especially true in the fall, when Hollywood lightly turns to thoughts of Oscar, and a bunch of biographical flicks come out in hopes of scooping up award nominations. (Reliably, they do — of the 2016 Best Actor nominees, four of the five, including winner Leonardo DiCaprio, were playing people who really existed.)

Well, it's spring now, comfortably clear of awards season, which means that the three biopics arriving in theaters this March and April — all stories of musicians who battled substance abuse — weren't deemed worthy of an Oscar push. That doesn't mean they're not worth the time, but they are a mixed bag, each trying to go against the grain of the Walk the Line tradition.

Here's a look at Ethan Hawke's Born to Be Blue (now in theaters), Tom Hiddleston's I Saw the Light (now in theaters), and Don Cheadle's Miles Ahead (in theaters April 1), placed in order from weakest to best.

3. I Saw the Light

3. I Saw the Light

Sony Pictures Classics

The performance: Tom Hiddleston, despite protests from certain parties who would have preferred an American in the role of country legend Hank Williams, puts on a presentable Southern accent and does his own singing.

The person responsible: This one is on Marc Abraham, who's better known as the producer of films like Children of Men and Bring It On, but who's gone for staid biopics in his two turns behind the camera as a director. After making his debut with 2008's Flash of Genius, about intermittent windshield wiper inventor Robert Kearns, he started developing Williams' life into his second directorial effort and wrote the script as well. Talking about why he was interested in making the film, he said, « I love sad stories. I always say, 'You can't get sad enough for me.' »

The skinny: Tall, angular Hiddleston looks great in Hank Williams' double-breasted suits and rolled-up shirtsleeves. He's even better with a hat perched at a jaunty angle or pulled down low over his eyes while sleeping off a hangover on the way to a gig. I Saw the Light has all the makings of an A+ photo shoot, one that could come packaged with an accompanying soundtrack, in which Hiddleston does some convincing yodeling on tunes like « Lovesick Blues. »


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