Hank Williams, Sr. was arguably one the most influential country artists of all time. During his short life (he died at the young age of 29) he had more than 30 #1 singles. His music has been covered by not just country artists, but has also crossed over into the pop, gospel and blues genres. With The Last Ride, this music legend joins Johnny Cash and Loretta Lyn in having their lives put on film.
When a stranger with a brand new Cadillac comes into his garage, young Silas (Jesse James, As Good as It Gets) takes notice. After Silas overhears the stranger asking for a driver, he immediately offers his services. He is hired and finds out his job is to get “Mr. Wells” (Henry Thomas, E.T. the Extraterrestrial) to West Virginia in two days, and to get him there sober. If Wells arrives drunk or hungover, Silas won’t get paid. Fighting the weather and sometimes each other, the two embark on what ended up being the last trip Hank Williams ever took.
Hank Williams was such a huge influence on country music, it’s sad to see his last days get such a lackluster treatment. This film is like a doughnut: nothing in the middle. The beginning and ending of this film are pretty good, but the hour in the middle feels like two due to the plodding pace of the story. I swear, their trip getting diverted from West Virginia to Canton, Ohio, due to an ice storm is the most exciting thing that happens. We don’t even get to experience the storm; all we see is some angry-looking clouds. Because there’s no real plot development, the actors are left with little else to do except look nervous (Silas) or drink (Wells/Williams). Essentially, this is a character piece with no character development, which makes their closeness at the end of the film mystifying and a bit forced.
As bad as the pacing was, the acting was quite good. Thomas has come a long way from carrying E.T. in his bicycle basket and nails the role, really highlighting Williams’ physical and emotional pain. He also bears quite the resemblance to the late country singer. When the script allows it, his chemistry with James’ Silas is great. James portrays Silas as someone completely out of his element, trying to deal with Williams’ demands and antics. Had they been given more to do, the theme of the movie (the relationship between the two men) could have been for fully developed and not lost in the dullness of a long car ride.
There are two great cameos in this film. Fred Thompson (TV’s Law & Order) plays Williams’ manager, Mr. O’Keefe. O’Keefe provides direction for Silas, telling him how to handle “Mr. Wells” and reassuring him that he can do the job. Thompson brings all his Southern charm to bear, calmly dealing with Silas and not letting his frustration with Williams get the best of him. Kaley Cuoco (TV’s The Big Bang Theory) is adorable as Wanda, a gas station owner Silas meets on the way to Canton. He’s immediately smitten with her and, with a bit of encouragement from Williams, Wanda is the first girl Silas ever asks on a date. The chemistry between Cuoco and James is probably the best in the entire film and could probably have been a nice subplot had Cuoco gotten more screen time. Their scenes bring a much-needed depth to the story.
The only redeeming quality from the long stretches of nothing going on in the car was the music. This film features many covers of Williams’ music, including my personal favorite, “Hey Good Lookin.’” It was interesting to hear his music interpreted by other artists. The music really captured the mood of the scenes and almost made up for the fact that nothing was going on. It at least kept me from fast-forward to something interesting happening.
The Last Ride is presented with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is achieved with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 35 mbps. While most of the film looks quite good (especially Williams’ bright baby blue Cadillac), the night scenes don’t measure up. The black levels are off, so Williams’ black shirt disappears into his dark coat and the night sky. Fortunately, there are very few night scenes, so this doesn’t take too much away from the film. For the most part, everything is clear and easily seen.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track serves this film very well. Every word was clearly heard, including the times when Williams is mumbling in a drunken stupor. The music sounds great as well, even when they add little pops and snaps to make it sound like it’s coming from a record played over a ‘50s radio. I personally appreciated how the music faded to the background when people were talking. It was done so well, you could hear the lyrics as well as the dialogue, yet one didn’t overpower the other. The mixing for this film was really well done.
A Look Inside The Last Ride (6:24): This is a typical “Making of’ piece, with the actors talking about how much they enjoy Williams’ music and how fun it is to act in a piece set in the 1950s.
This movie had a good idea, but it wasn’t really executed well. The Last Ride is like a boring version of Driving Miss Daisy (minus the racism). The music is really the best part of this film, so I’d recommend buying the soundtrack instead of the film, unless you really love Hank Williams, Sr.