The most dire corners of poor-white-trash Americana have long fascinated artists abroad, from musician Nick Cage to the directors (Barbet Schroeder, Marco Ferreri, etc.) who’ve adapted Charles Bukowski to the screen.
That grows problematic when they buy so far into the “mythic” aspects of such culture that portrayals becomes a form of arty slumming remote from any real life experience. Though inspired by a true story, commercial vet Dominic Murphy’s Brit “White Lightnin'” comes off patronizing and fatally pretentious in its glimpse of hillbilly hell. It’s hard to see much commercial future for a work both unpleasant and near-parodically caricatured.
Narrating his own tortured life saga as an adult, Jesse aka Jessco is the son of a regionally famous “mountain dancer” (a more stationary backcountry form of tap), who wallops him for his sins when Jesse’s not serving time in various reform schools, work camps and psych wards.
He’s in the latter when news arrives that his daddy was killed by a couple of drunks. Released, grown-up Jessco vows vengeance, succumbing again to old bad habits despite the influence of his boozy, much older new girlfriend Cilla (Carrie Fisher).
Jessco eventually self-mutilates himself, but, by this point, the film has long since lost its ability to shock. As the adult protag, Edward Hogg has charisma in his few calmer moments. But no actor should be asked to spend most of 89 minutes wild-eyed and freakin’ in a movie that scrapes so little beneath its surface. That’s less the fault of Eddy Moretti and Shane Smith’s script than Murphy’s overstylized, inadvertently condescending directorial approach.
Tim Maurice-Jones’ widescreen lensing is usually color-bled to near-B&W, which looks handsome but adds to the general air of upscale-gallery perspective on trailer-park lives.
Soundtrack makes good use of numerous tracks by eccentric, prolific late Appalachian rocker Hasil Adkins, which feel more authentic than anything else here .
Tech aspects are polished. Pic was shot in West Virginia and Croatia. The real Jessco White is profiled in a widely seen 1991 short, “Dancing Outlaw.”