We recently presented our 23 best music biopics and reported that there is something uniquely fascinating about the life of a musician that is so conducive to success within the institution that is the biographical motion picture. With the arrival of Jimi: All Is By My Side, the late guitar god Jimi Hendrix gets the spotlight.
You will not hear one single hit from the six-string maestro's library, and that is exactly as writer-director John Ridley wants it. And for his film, that is just perfect.
Andre Benjamin is Hendrix and as we first meet him -- teased in the Jimi: All Is By My Side trailer -- he’s a Seattle transplant living in Harlem who is toiling as the guitarist for a so-so band. He meets Linda Keith (Imogen Poots), a British “model” who is best known for being Keith Richards' girlfriend. She convinces Hendrix to go solo and her efforts are rewarded over time with some serious polishing of the artist's image as she felt would hit the right notes. She hooks him up with a former member of The Animals as his manager, moves him to London and as they say, the rest is history.
Yet, Ridley shows us that success did not come immediately for Hendrix in London, as he thought it would and as he was promised. And Jimi: All Is By My Side chronicles those difficult days and nights and is populated with a who’s-who of British rock, including Eric Clapton and The Beatles. It’s quite a production design that Ridley and his team have accomplished, but what’s even more impressive is the performance by Benjamin.
He is Hendrix.
The man is not known for being an actor (other than a few roles in films such as Semi-Pro and Idlewild) and we largely know him as Andre 300 from Outkast.
Benjamin nails Hendrix’s nuances, his movement, his speech patterns and above all else, his persona. There was an effortless air to the rock legend and it is clear that not only has Benjamin done his homework, but he has the talent to execute a performance worthy of someone that looms so largely over popular culture.
But, our issue with Jimi: All Is By My Side is the film’s pacing is way off. It lumbers and falters on more than one occasion and all the fantastic sets, costumes, acting, and yes, music in the world cannot save that.
There are dramatic pauses that seem to be completely out of left field. If there was ever a story that could live and breathe on its own, it’s Hendrix’s. Yet, the audience never feels it having too much of a pulse, except when Benjamin is Hendrix and he’s playing music.
Poots is one of the best things about the movie as well. Yet, there is not enough of her in the film. She completely drops out of the picture for the middle act and then when she finally returns, it’s unfortunately too late to pick up the power that was its pitch when her character faded into the background.
Our Jimi: All is By My Side review finds that the film is a worthy chronicle of the beginning days of a rock god’s journey into fame’s blinding light. It’s just not the first class ride it deserved.