'Jimi: All Is by My Side' review: André 3000 shines in otherwise flat biopic
Anyone interested in watching a great lead actor performance will be satisfied -- but anyone looking for any insight into the life of legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix will be sorely disappointed.
In short: Jimi Hendrix (André Benjamin) struggles as a session musician playing low-paying gigs in New York City when Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) notices him in 1965, prompting Hendrix to move his career to London. (Watch the trailer)
Even after typing out that plot summary, it's still sort of unclear exactly what "All Is by My Side" is about. The log-line description thrown about is "this is the story of Jimi before he became Jimi" ... which is equally not helpful. The main problem with "All Is by My Side" is it forces a narrative arc between two points in time - being discovered at the Cheetah Club in May 1966 and his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. But shoehorning a dramatic biopic book-ended by two specific, unrelated points in history, results in a movie that simply follows a sullen artiste as he wanders around London for about a year.
The end result of "All Is by My Side" is a patchwork of individually mildly interesting scenes that barely adds up to a general thrust of something that slightly resembles a story. Manager Michael Jeffery (Burn Gorman) shows up for a weird scene to throw knives and offer some business insight. A Black Power movement figure tries to recruit Jimi to their ideology and cause. Some police harass Hendrix and his white girlfriend Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell). Each of these individual scenes are fine, but none of them pay off or contribute to the overall narrative in any meaningful way. It can be argued these scenes give insight into Hendrix's views on the music industry, culture and racism of the mid '60s, but a better movie would have found more organic ways to weave those themes into the movie without resorting to one-off scenes that lead the narrative nowhere.
The single undeniable strength of this biopic is André Benjamin's performance as the aloof musician, in a role that presents Hendrix as a passionate musician, sullen man and casual womanizer. André 3000 shines in his brilliant and electric turn as Hendrix -- the Outkast member channels a driven musician who is as flawed as a man as he is talented as a guitarist. The Hendrix he evokes a music industry force of nature who will not denied or ignored.
But, once several other noteworthy drawbacks are factored in - such as the real life Etchingham claiming significant scenes in this film were "completely made up" and the fact "All Is by My Side" does not feature any songs written by Hendrix - the negatives outweigh Benjamin's noteworthy turn.
Final verdict: Benjamin's brilliant performance is the only reason to watch this oddly executed look at the formative time of Jimi Hendrix. "All Is by My Side" is a meandering, flawed biopic that reveals very little about the legendary musician in an ill-conceived attempt to illuminate Hendrix's time in London.
"Jimi: All Is by My Side" opens in select cities Sept. 26 and is rated R for language including sexual references, and some drug content. This film screened during the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival.