NZIFF Review - Jimi: All is by my Side
With a pedigree that includes being written and directed by 12 Years A Slave's John Ridley and Andre Benjamin of Outkast playing Jimi Hendrix, you'd expect the promise of Jimi: All is By My Side to deliver.
And it certainly does that - to a large extent.
Taking in Hendrix's early life and times as a R'n'B backing guitarist where he was spotted by Keith Richards' girlfriend Linda Keith (Imogen Poots), Andre Benjamin inhabits the role completely. With Keith acting as a kind of puppetmaster, Hendrix starts his rise to fame and fortune. However, along the way, he meets Kathy (an impressive Hayley Atwell, who turns in a nuanced performance) causing friction between the three of them.
"Identity is a wonderful thing - I encourage you to have one" is uttered very early on in this piece, which doesn't shy away from showing Hendrix as more of a lover than a fighter, thanks to his relaxed hippyesque vibe proffered by Benjamin. Ridley mixes music with snapshots of 60s swinging London to impressive directorial effect and delivers one shocking moment that exposes Hendrix's true nature and his attitude to Kathy.
It's this touch that really shakes Jimi: All Is By My Side and it's a calculated move by Ridley to ensure it has maximum effect as Hendrix's lack of self-belief and potentially drug infused paranoia boils over. Ridley chooses to use the women to help place focus on Hendrix, while Benjamin's musical prowess ensures that the talent isn't wasted on the screen.
However, his relationship with Keith simply dramatically fizzles out in a purple haze of jealousy and fades off the screen. It's a touch which proves divisive in the narrative as it feels unfinished and unformed. Unlike Hayley Atwell's Kathy, whose arc is horrifically complete and thematically satisfying in the worst possible way.
Really though, these two are the only two relationships which are fully explored; with band matters and management sidelined in favour of the talent shining through. Perhaps the closest Ridley gets to shining some kind of light on Hendrix is in a phone conversation with his father that's split with shots and photographs of their lives and gives a bit more insight into their fractured relationship.
Ridley's done the best he can with a film that was blocked by the Hendrix estate, but thanks to the performance of Benjamin this one year biopic snapshot just borders on successful; the music is electrifying, even if some of the human element is a little more downbeat in terms of tempo.