Jimi: All Is By My Side

Directed By: John Ridley

Starring: André Benjamin, Hayley Atwell, Burn Gorman, Imogen Poots, Andrew Buckley, and Ruth Negga

Jimi Hendrix is before my time, but I would be a fool not to recognize the profound impact his music has had on generations of musicians to follow him.  With the influence his music and his creativity have had on rock and roll and the music landscape as a whole, it should come as no surprise that filmmakers are trying to bring his tragically short life to the big screen.  The Hendrix estate has largely been an impediment to this over the years, and it's abundantly clear with this weekend's biopic Jimi: All Is By My Side12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley doesn't have the backing of the estate, the rights to use any of Hendrix's music from the height of his career, or the intimate knowledge on Hendrix from those closest to him.  Because of these obstacles, All Is By My Side never had a chance.

The film chronicles Jimi Hendrix's (André Benjamin) early years.  While playing on stage to an empty venue, Hendrix is discovered by Linda Keith (Imogen Poots).  Known for her relationship with her Rolling Stones boyfriend Keith Richards, she sees Jimi’s potential and starts to put him in contact with influential men in the music business, including guitarist Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley) of The Animals.  After she discovers him, Jimi never looks back.  Linda and Chas convince him to move to London to try and jumpstart his career.  There, he meets his new girlfriend Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell) and blazes a path through the London scene straight into the music record books.  The rest is history.

Every music legend knows that if you put on a show for your longtime adoring fans, you damn well better play the hits.  The same principle applies to musical biopics.  What would Ray have been without "Hit the Road Jack" or "Georgia on My Mind"?  What would Get On Up have been without "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" or "It's a Man's Man's Man's World"?  Well, that's what Jimi: All Is By My Side is without "Hey Joe" or "Burning of the Midnight Lamp".  John Ridley's latest is a film that tries to put on a good show in honor of Hendrix with its hands tied behind its back.  Without playing the hits, Ridley, his cast, and his crew can never truly hit the notes for which this legendary musician is remembered.  Consequently, they do little to honor his legacy.

Though John Ridley is a gifted screenwriter, his talents aren't transferable to the director's chair.  Jimi: All Is By My Side marks just his second feature film as a director, and it shows.  He tries to portray Hendrix as this guitarist fighting for the freedom to take his music in the direction he chooses.  The problem with this is that a film that thematically is all about pushing bounds musically should in turn push bounds cinematically.  Given his final product, Ridley is just not the man to bring this to fruition.  While the musical numbers (which aren't Hendrix's hits) are decent, Ridley drops the ball in other departments.  His narrative has a few too many dry spots.  He draws a mixed bag of performances from his cast.  To compound matters, his film becomes painfully long as we approach the climax.  All in all, Ridley's half-baked All Is By My Side lacks a coherent creative vision to drive it to greatness.

On paper, André 3000 is a reasonable choice to play Jimi Hendrix.  Like Hendrix, he's a musical rebel.  As one half of the eccentric duo OutKast, he was not one to conform to the norms of the rap music scene in the 1990's and 2000's.  He even has had some experience on the big screen in supporting roles in the past.  The problem with his casting as Hendrix is that he's not the world's greatest actor. He doesn't have the charisma to fill up the screen with his personality.  As such, his supporting cast members act circles around them.  For her part as Linda Keith, Imogen Poots brings a warmth to the screen and carries whatever scene she's in.  Similarly, Hayley Atwell shows a different side of her as an actress in her alluring portrayal of Kathy Etchingham.  Still, their solidly enjoyable performances only help to highlight the fact that André 3000 is out of his element.  He should just stick to the music.

It's clear where I stand on Jimi: All Is By My Side.  The film never had a chance.  It was impeded by its inability to leverage the material from the Jimi Hendrix Experience.  John Ridley should have never pushed ahead without consent from Hendrix's estate.  He was crippled creatively because of it.  Jimi: All Is By My Side gets a 0.09% rating.  Have a couple of glasses of gin and tonic with this one.