‘Jimi: All By My Side’ is a fascinating yet somewhat disappointingly narrow look at a rock god. It is fascinating because it gives a dark and cerebral look at a young, newly discovered Hendrix, focusing only a tiny sliver of the star’s life before he garnered the fame he is today known for. The disappointment comes from the restrictions of the film plot’s vision. This isn’t necessarily writer-director John Ridley’s fault. They could not get the rights to Hendrix’s music from his estate, but regardless all of the stuff Hendrix is now known for is absent from the film, leaving only the man and his struggles.
This isn’t all bad. Andre Benjamin is fantastic in the titular role, giving a multi-layered performance, illustrating both the philosophical wonderings and the explosive passions that drove Hendrix. There is a complexity to Benjamin’s Hendrix that makes him hard to peg, and it is this that makes him feel genuine.
An interesting aspect of the film is the way that the various women in Hendrix’s life are shown to influence both his personality and his outlook on life. It is a bit reductionist to reduce a person to just the company they keep, but the film is incredibly illustrative of the effect that other people can have both good and bad.
At times the film does get a bit unnecessarily artsy. It is likely aimed at creating certain moods, but it can be distracting. Overlapping conversations, quick shots of still images, and guitar playing with all the sound minus the fingering/picking removed are just a few examples of such flourishes. It would be one thing if these methods added something to the film, but in most instances they disrupt the flow of the film.
‘Jimi: All By My Side’ feels like a very well made first half of a much longer feature. Its end comes fairly abruptly, leaving so many open questions and a tantalizing desire to see what happens next. Almost two hours of build lead to an unsatisfying conclusion and no hope of any resolution. It is weird to be so disappointed by such a well-made and fascinating film.