André Benjamin (otherwise known by his stage name André 3000) takes on the eponymous lead role, as we watch on as this immensely talented, yet somewhat introverted guitar player breaks into the music industry. Helped along by the beguiling Linda Keith (Imogen Poots), the former girlfriend of The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, Hendrix accepts the offer to be managed by member of The Animals, Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley) and makes the move to London, where his reputation builds, and he grows into the musician that we all know him to be. However the balance between his career and relationship with Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell) is not quite so triumphant a task.
The fact we don’t hear a single Jimi Hendrix song throughout this production proves to be mightily detrimental to the overall piece, as the absence of his music is all too conspicuous – it’s what he was renowned for, and what defined him, after all. It is worth noting that the filmmakers were denied the right to use Hendrix’s work by his estate, but then that leaves question marks over the entire point to this production and whether it was worth going ahead with. To make up for the lack of music, Ridley strives to create a more stylistic endeavour, but it feels so contrived that it backfires tremendously, never feeling natural in its implementation.
The lack of music also means that it’s something of a struggle to grasp exactly where we are in Hendrix’s career, unable to contextualise as a result. The music often works as a narration of sorts, as we can figure out our bearings by what record has been released, like in Ray, for instance. Nonetheless, a stunning turn by Benjamin ensures this film is just about worth investing in. He is subtle in his depiction, embodying Hendrix without every feeling as though it’s a mere impersonation.
The performances across the board are commendable, as Poots, who has made a series of underwhelming films of late, is back to her best. However the decision to have actors play other distinguishable celebrities is a poor one, as they become almost caricature and farcical, taking us out of the moment. When watching a biopic, particularly of somebody so iconic, we’re already required to suspend our disbelief, which we do, but when you then needlessly include actors to play Keith Richards or The Beatles when it’s so obviously not them, it becomes somewhat overbearing.
While certainly interesting to look into a period of Hendrix’s life that we perhaps know less about, as one certainly not as well documented, this is without a tangible enough narrative to warrant that artistic decision. There’s just no distinct angle to this film, no real point to the picture. It just meanders on aimlessly, giving us little to grasp hold of it. Is the romance the prevalent theme? Or perhaps his rise to fame? We flirt with each subject matter and yet never extensively explore one, leading to an almighty sense of dissatisfaction when the final credits roll.