×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Jimi: All Is By My Side’

Andre Benjamin makes an intuitive choice to play Jimi Hendrix in this well-acted but musically underwhelming biopic.

With:
Andre Benjamin, Hayley Atwell, Imogen Poots, Ruth Negga, Andrew Buckley, Adrian Lester, Oliver Bennett, Tom Dunlea, Danny McClogan, Robbie Jarvis-Dean, Ashley Charles, Clare-Hope Ashitey.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2402085/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_2

The first thing to know about John Ridley’s “Jimi: All Is By My Side” is that the writer-director was unable to secure rights to any of Jimi Hendrix’s original songs or recordings: This turns out to provide both the film’s biggest strengths and biggest shortcomings. Less a traditional biopic than a strategically limited portrait of a particular time, place and person, the film effectively brings pre-stardom Hendrix to life without ever tapping into the source of what made him such a magnetic performer, or elucidating just what drove him to create a lifetime’s worth of music in the span of four years. Unsatisfying on a musical level, it’s nonetheless a well-acted, sporadically impressive piece of filmmaking from the “12 Years a Slave” scribe, and the guitarist’s evergreen popularity should power healthy arthouse interest.

Covering the roughly yearlong period (1966-67) in which Hendrix went from a New York City sideman to a burgeoning Swinging London star (the film ends with Hendrix in the airport, en route to his career-making, literally incendiary set at the Monterey Pop Festival), “Jimi: All Is By My Side” features Andre “3000” Benjamin as the titular axman. Though Hendrix dominates the majority of the film, the initial focus is on Linda Keith (the ever-charming Imogen Poots), a stylish, 20-year-old aspiring British talent scout who has arrived in New York intent on becoming known as more than just Keith Richards’ longtime girlfriend. She spots Hendrix in the near-empty Cheetah Club, playing with Curtis Knight and the Squires, and is immediately taken with the shy guitar genius, inviting him back to her place and bonding over Bob Dylan and LSD.

Before long, Hendrix, then known as Jimmy James, finds himself living a split life, shacking up in Harlem with local girl Faye Pridgeon (Clare-Hope Ashitey), who chides him for spending all of his money on “white-boy records,” and haunting the Cafe Wha? with a coterie of British glitterati. Without putting too neat a bow on it, this provides a nice microcosm of the racial-cultural dichotomy with which Hendrix would struggle for the rest of his short life. When Linda asks to accompany him to Harlem, or Faye asks to check out his gigs in Greenwich Village, Hendrix’s response is the same: “There’s nothing there for you.”

Keith and manager Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley) gradually convince Hendrix to head for the more fertile environs of London, where he forms the Jimi Hendrix Experience, starts to develop his explosive onstage persona, and begins a relationship with fiery scenester Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell). Without the need (or ability) to cram all of Hendrix’s career highlights into a two-hour running time, Ridley lingers artfully on the downtime in between all the history making, moving from scene to scene, conversation to conversation with a loose, almost free-associative rhythm. (A minor episode featuring Jimi and Kathy lounging on a London park bench, listening to a Salvation Army band, is perhaps the loveliest sequence in the film.)

Taking on the most demanding role of his career, Benjamin proves a pleasantly intuitive choice to play Hendrix. During his stint as one half of storied rap duo Outkast, Benjamin managed to dabble in outsized onstage flamboyance while still remaining fundamentally introverted, and became a potent sex symbol while shying away from the most outward displays of machismo  both traits he shares with his character.

Here, Benjamin impressively channels some of that life experience while nailing the hesitant ebb and flow of Hendrix’s vocal patterns. One late scene, in which Jimi seduces a fellow American expat (Ruth Negga) at a used bookstore while rambling half-coherently about a favorite paperback sci-fi novel, excitingly conveys his unique mixture of bashful dorkiness and space-traveler allure.

Benjamin disappears into the role as much as can be expected (especially considering he’s a full decade older than Hendrix was at the time of his death), but one strains for any indication of what the man is thinking, or what sparked his artistic breakthrough. Though his unrivaled guitar heroics still get the most attention, Hendrix’s seemingly overnight development into a world-class pop songwriter was just as remarkable: “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Fire” and “Manic Depression” were all composed during the time period covered by the film, yet never does Hendrix convincingly appear to be an artist in bloom.

As the film goes on, one begins to question whether Ridley really cracked the character, especially when he shows the mild-mannered Jimi lashing out physically against Kathy, beating her bloody with a pay-phone receiver. The scene strikes an odd note for several reasons: For one, the real-life Etchingham has been quite vocal in her insistence that the incident never actually happened. And even if it did, it feels totally out of character with the image of Hendrix presented elsewhere. The film’s Jimi may be selfish and emotionally unavailable at times, but his capacity for sudden violence seems to come from a place the pic never otherwise explores.

And then there’s the simple matter of the music. While ace guitarist Waddy Wachtel provides some suitably “Hendrix-ish” noodling and covers of blues standards, rarely does what we hear jibe with the breathless superlatives the assembled characters are constantly offering up. The film’s attempt to re-create Jimi’s legendary jam session with Cream comes off weirdly awkwardly, and a triumphant concert setpiece  in which the Experience dazzles the Beatles by cheekily covering “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” mere days after its release  seems to come from a different, far more conventional biopic. Obviously Ridley’s hands were tied by licensing considerations, but one almost wonders if the film  at its best when it veers most radically from formula  might have been better served taking the even more radical step of never showing any onstage performances at all.

Film Review: 'Jimi: All Is By My Side'

Reviewed at Los Angeles Film Festival (Summer Showcase), June 17, 2014. (Also in 2013 Toronto Film Festival — Special Presentations.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 116 MIN.

Production: An Open Road Entertainment/XLrator Media release presented with Darko Entertainment, Freeman Film of a Darko Entertainment, Freeman Film, Matador Pictures, Subotica production in association with the Irish Film Board. Produced by Sean McKittrick, Jeff Culotta, Danny Bramson, Brandon Freeman, Anthony Burns, Tristan Orpen Lynch, Nigel Thomas. Executive producers, Edward H. Hamm Jr., John Ridley.

Crew: Directed, written by John Ridley. Camera (color), Tim Fleming; editor, Hank Corwin; music, Waddy Wachtel, Danny Bramson; music supervisor, Chris Mollere; production designer, Paul Cross; costume designer, Leonie Prendergast; art director, Adam Makin; sound, Daniel Birch; sound designer/supervising sound editor, Glenn Freemantle; re-recording mixers, Niv Adiri, Adam Scrivener; assistant director, Charlie Endean; casting, Dan Hubbard.

With: Andre Benjamin, Hayley Atwell, Imogen Poots, Ruth Negga, Andrew Buckley, Adrian Lester, Oliver Bennett, Tom Dunlea, Danny McClogan, Robbie Jarvis-Dean, Ashley Charles, Clare-Hope Ashitey.

More Film

  • Nona

    Film Review: 'Nona'

    Twenty years and 12 features down the line, it’s still hard to peg the directorial sensibility of Michael Polish, with or without the presence of brother Mark as frequent co-writer and actor. His output has been all over the place, from early Lynchian quirkfests to the very middle-of-the-road inspirational dramedy “The Astronaut Farmer,” not to [...]

  • Pawel Pawlikowski "Cold War"

    Pawel Pawlikowski's 'Cold War' Wins for Best Film, Director at European Film Awards

    “Cold War,” Pawel Pawlikowski’s black-and-white romance set in the 1950s, scooped the prizes for best film, director and screenplay at the 31st edition of the European Film Awards on Saturday. “Cold War” star Joanna Kulig also won the award for best actress. Marcello Fonte, the star of Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman,” won for best actor. More Reviews [...]

  • The Favourite Bohemian Rapsody Star is

    The Best Movie Scenes of 2018

    When we think back on a movie that transported us, we often focus on a great scene — or maybe the greatest scene — in it. It’s natural. Those scenes are more than just defining. They can be the moment that lifts a movie into the stratosphere, that takes it to the higher reaches of [...]

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

    Box Office: 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Soars Toward $35-40 Million Debut

    “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is swinging into theaters on a high note. Sony-Marvel’s latest output is launching to $42 million from 3,813 North American locations in its debut, though other more conservative estimates place that number at $35.5 million. The animated superhero story picked up $12.6 million on Friday, easily leading the pack for the weekend. [...]

  • Ventana Sur : Cinema226 Closes Four

    Cinema226 Announces Four Intl. Co-Productions, Hints at More (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mexico’s Cinema226, run by Marco Antonio Salgado and Sam Guillén, is driving into a raft of Mexico, Argentina and Spain co-productions, playing off the current vibrancy of Mexican film production funding and distribution outlets. Among the projects are titles which have been standouts at Ventana Sur’s Blood Window, the next film by Mexico-based Argentine filmmaker [...]

  • Ventana Sur Debates Gender Parity in

    Ventana Sur Debates Gender’s 50/50 in 2020 for Argentina Film Industry

    BUENOS AIRES — Despite recent gains, namely the equality pledge towards 50/50-2020 signed at the Mar del Plata Film Festival on Nov. 12, producer Magalí Nieva, pointed out that no representative from INCAA was present following the apparent resignation of its vice-president Fernando Juan Lima. “We are left without an interlocutor to discuss gender policies [...]

  • Ventana Sur Rocks with Sales, Mass

    Ventana Sur Rocks with Sales, Mass Attendance, Structural Growth

    BUENOS AIRES — Celebrating its 10th anniversary with a huge hike in attendance to over 4,000 accredited delegates, the 2018 Ventana Sur will go down in history on multiple counts: Sales and pick-ups on movies which combined social comment and entertainment value, increasingly the new foreign-language movie standard; new sections, led by a Proyecta co-production [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content