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Jimi: All Is By My Side

Andre 3000 makes an A-grade Hendrix, but this biopic sees the legend's legacy fall into a bit of a haze.
By Tom Clift
December 29, 2014
By Tom Clift
December 29, 2014

After taking home an Oscar for his screenplay to 12 Years a Slave, writer John Ridley tries his hand at directing with Jimi: All Is By My Side. Starring Outkast's Andre Benjamin as legendary rocker Jimi Hendrix, the film attempts to break down narrative conventions in the same way that its subject broke down rock 'n' roll. Sadly, Ridley is no Hendrix, and soon finds himself struggling to keep his audience engaged.

The film begins with a brief scene in London, where an impatient crowd sits waiting for Hendrix to take the stage. We then flashback to one year earlier, where the guitarist is still playing to half-empty nightclubs in New York. His one lifeline is Linda Keith (Imogen Poots), the girlfriend of Rolling Stone Keith Richard. It's she who introduces Hendrix to his future manager, former Animals bassist Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley).

By focusing specifically on Hendrix's early career, Ridley manages to avoid making the film feel episodic. The downside, however, is that there isn't really enough material to fill the runtime. As such, scenes tend to meander, making it difficult to stay fully invested. Ridley tries to spice things up from a visual perspective, making liberal use of archival footage at seemingly random moments throughout the film. It's an interesting gimmick at first, but the novelty quickly wears off.

In the title role, Benjamin's performance is terrific. The problem, though, is that nothing is ever done to make us care about his character. Laid back almost to the point of catatonia, the truth is that Hendrix — at least as he's depicted here — just isn't very interesting. The film touches briefly on racial issues before pushing them to the wayside, along with any and all questions about the pervasive nature of fame.

Still, at least you get to enjoy some quality music. Or rather you would, were it not for the fact that Hendrix's estate explicitly barred the movie from using any of his songs. Why they didn't ask permission before they started shooting is something we'll probably never know.

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