Writer-director John Ridley (the Oscar-winning screenwriter of ‘12 Years a Slave’) takes an unusual approach to the biopic in this admirable though gloomy chronicle of Jimi Hendrix (uncannily portrayed by André Benjamin). This unauthorised film focuses on Hendrix in the years 1966 and ’67 when he was living in London. Although none of the artist’s music is used (just covers), Ridley still succeeds in channelling something of his essence.
Right from the first scene – in which Keith Richards’s girlfriend Linda (Imogen Poots) discovers Hendrix in a New York club – it’s clear Ridley is more interested in atmosphere than in hitting the usual true-to-life beats. The air is smoky, the dialogue mumbled and the vibe oppressively claustrophobic.
At best, Ridley’s unconventional choices make it feel like we’re hanging out with the musician and sharing his foggy headspace. But there’s no real pleasure in any of the musical performances. And when coupled with the scenes exploring Hendrix’s stormy personal life – particularly his semi-abusive relationship with long-term girlfriend Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell) – you’re left with a monotonously grim portrait that’s more rewarding in theory than in execution