Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 6, 2015)
One of the 1960s biggest musical legends becomes the focus of 2014’s Jimi: All Is By My Side. In this look at guitarist Jimi Hendrix, we focus on the musician during his rise to prominence.
This means Side opens in 1966, where we meet Hendrix (Andre Benjamin) as he plays guitar behind singer Curtis Knight. Encouraged by Keith Richards’ girlfriend Linda Keith (Imogen Poots), Hendrix leaves Knight’s band and strikes out on his own.
After plenty of failures, Linda finds Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley) – former member of the Animals – to be his manager. From there, Jimi heads to London to pursue stardom. We follow his path as he forms the Jimi Hendrix Experience and also has personal ups and downs.
On the positive side, I’m glad that Side focused on one slice of Hendrix’s life. Most biopics take the broader scope and come across as vague “greatest hits reels”. Granted, since Hendrix died at 27, this approach might’ve worked okay – there’s just not that much ground to cover – but I prefer the decision to concentrate on a small but vital aspect of Hendrix’s existence.
Thus ends the positive part of this review, as not much else about Side succeeds, though some parts fare better than others. For the most part, the actors do okay in their roles, though none of them impresses.
In particular, Benjamin comes across as something of a mixed bag. While he manages Jimi’s voice okay, he looks little like Hendrix, and he also is too old for the role by about 15 years.
Benjamin could’ve overcome those concerns with a strong performance. After all, Chadwick Boseman looked even less like James Brown and he needed to play the GFOS at a mix of ages in Get On Up but he eradicated those concerns with a stellar portrayal of the soul legend.
As Hendrix, Benjamin never seems bad, but he lacks much power and clarity in the role. His Jimi never seems like a particularly convincing character, as he ambles through the movie without much to make us gravitate to him.
It doesn’t help that writer/director John Ridley often prefers to play Hendrix as a supporting role. Hendrix always feels like a background personality, as the movie tends to focus on Keith, Jimi’s girlfriend Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell) or others instead. This seems like a weird choice in a movie packed with strange decisions, as it leaves our lead character as a bystander in his own story.
Not that Ridley seems all that interested in telling us the meat of Hendrix’s tale. Side appears more concerned with atmosphere than events, as it touches on major elements in Hendrix’s life across 1966-67 but prefers to depict random “mood moments”.
Those become a major flaw. Side enjoys clever-clever choices such as dialogue snippets from out of nowhere or conversations that leave some speakers inaudible. It also tosses in scenes that start or end abruptly for no logical reason.
Does Ridley intend this to let us “feel like” we’re in the characters’ universe? Maybe – given that I was either unborn or an infant during the period, I can’t convey what it was like to be there.
Does this work in a satisfying manner? Nope – it just seems like “artsy” filmmaking without logic or purpose. Side feels untraditional for its own sake, not because these techniques benefit the movie.
Side also suffers from its lack of Hendrix songs. The Hendrix estate wouldn’t authorize their usage, so we get music that comes in Jimi’s style but that’s as close as we get. This doesn’t become a fatal flaw – we do find a few covers Hendrix made his own - but it does offer another strike against the movie.
Side can’t even muster a decent ending. The film concludes right before Hendrix’s star-making performance at June 1967’s Monterey International Pop Festival, but Side does little to symbolize the events yet to come. It expects the viewer to know what’ll occur, so the movie just kind of… ends. It plods along until it stops – no logic or clarity occur.
The movie’s biggest problem remains its blandness, however. At no point in All Is By My Side do we get a real feeling for what made Jimi Hendrix special. We’re left with a muddled, unfocused take on the subject that lacks any real merit.