Review of The Last Ride

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This film takes place in the year 1952. With the best years of Hank Williams's career behind him, he hires a local kid to drive him through the Appalachian countryside for a couple of New Years shows in West Virginia and Ohio.
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Movie Review: "The Last Ride"

-- Rating: PG-13 (thematic elements, smoking, violence and some language)
Length: 102 minutes
Release Date: June 22, 2012
Directed by: Harry Thomason
Genre: Drama/Biography
Stars: Henry Thomas, Jesse James, and Fred Dalton Thompson

The ire inspired by "The Last Ride" even before the movie hit theaters is a tribute to the life and music of the great country music singer Hank Williams. With such a rich life to explore, many fans were perplexed that anyone would make a film based on a short span in the artist's life that had little to do with music. Because it wasn't the movie some were expecting, it didn't get a fair shake with critics or in country music media and therefore certainly deserves a second look.

As a stand-alone story, "The Last Ride" recounts a compelling journey that culminates in ultimate tragedy. Hank Williams (Henry Thomas, "E.T.") starts on his way to play two New Years' shows out-of-state chauffeured by naive, young college student, Silas (Jesse James, "Jumper"). The movie does a realistic job of portraying Williams' charisma and vices-neither overdramatizing his indulgent tendencies nor trying to write them off as understandable necessities of the trade. Hollywood's tendency to portray the artist-addict as a victim is sufficiently shirked in this movie. It's a welcome relief.

The circumstances surrounding Williams' death have long been a mystery. After missing his first show, the 29-year-old performer was found beaten to death in the back of his car while en route to the other. His chauffeur was paying for gasoline at the time. He claims not to have seen what transpired. Williams' killer was never identified, and friends, family, and country music fans around the world have waited impatiently for real clues to surface as to what really happened.

Answering the question of what circumstances lead up to the death of the star rests at the heart of "The Last Ride," and the film does an excellent job of providing a plausible answer. In the telling, this hero's great mystery is explained amid the backdrop of Silas' coming of age, albeit a bit later than most. His ride with Williams is an eyeopener to the real world and what greatness is really about. In fact, as the movie starts out, this good, young kid is so good and young that he's barely heard of Hank Williams, let alone shares any of his vices. At the end of the film, he walks away as the only one with the knowledge of that day and with the foresight to lie about it.

Henry Thomas plays his role to perfection. He is the embodiment of Williams and resists the director's push to overdo things. The serious depth audience saw and loved in "E.T.'s" Elliot resurfaces and gives audiences much to look forward to from this still-budding actor.

While he did a good, honest job as a good, honest character, Jesse James' performance lacked that same depth until the very end of the film. As Silas, James takes the boy next door and carries him sufficiently to the end, which is exactly what Thomason was intending. The director wanted to create a feel-good movie about the end of Williams' days and something fans could watch with the majority of their family. He did just that.

"The Last Ride" takes us on a journey with one of the true legends of early modern country music. It embraces his bold nature and doesn't make excuses. Audiences will smile and feel for the young star as he knowingly follows his bad habits at the expense of opportunity. We'll watch the young man grow, learn, explore and become changed by meeting this amazing figures. All of those things make for a pleasant movie, if not a gut-wrenching film.

For those who have spent decades appreciating Williams' music and life story, this is a movie that seeks to embolden admiration. It is a tribute to the star's self-acceptance and celebration. He was who he was to the very end, and at the end of his life, he may have had regrets, but being himself surely wasn't one of them.

The show is a great choice for families with older children, as well, because of the way it handles sensitive topics. Addiction is not excused or glorified. It is shown as something that limited William's life. Some critics have called the film's approach "Hallmark" in style, but the honesty preserves the heart of the movie and leaves audiences feeling refreshed and inspired.

3 out of 5 stars