out of Five
Running time: 84
White Lightnin' features a terrific performance from rising British star Edward Hogg and there are flashes of brilliance in the direction, but the film's excesses make it difficult to watch at times and the end result is somewhat exhausting.
What's it all about?
Directed by British filmmaker Dominic Murphy and loosely based on a real person, White Lightnin' is set in rural Appalachia and stars Owen Campbell as Jesco White, a lighter-fluid-huffing wild child whose father D-Ray (Muse Watson) routinely chains him to the bed in order to keep him out of trouble and cure him of his addictions. Years later, D-Ray is brutally murdered by two drunks, but not before he's passed on the family tradition of folk dancing to Jesco.
Years later, Jesco (now played by rising British star Edward Hogg) is making a living as a folk dancer (in between bar brawls and jail spells) when he falls for Cilla (Carrie Fisher), a much older woman who promptly leaves her family and shacks up with him. However, Jesco's addictions retain a powerful hold on him and he becomes obsessed with avenging his father's murder, especially when he meets the two men he believes responsible.
Edward Hogg is extraordinary as Jesco, in a performance that should see him catapulted into the ranks of Britain's top young actors. He completely nails the accent and delivers a portrait of Jesco that is simultaneously charming, unsettling, unpredictable and shockingly unhinged.
There's also terrific support from Carrie Fisher, who's almost unrecognisable as Cilla, and Watson is good as D-Ray, but the other supporting characters are frustratingly underwritten, most notably Wallace Merck as Jesco's friend Edgar, a banjo player who tours with Jesco and Cilla for a while. In addition, the film is impressively shot throughout, with Tim Maurice-Jones's moody black and white cinematography adding considerably to the dark, increasingly Gothic atmosphere.
The main problem is that it's hard to sympathise with the increasingly disturbed Jesco, especially when it's pretty clear that he ought to be receiving proper medical attention. Similarly, the film's descent into shocking violence makes it pretty hard to watch at times (D-Ray's murder is particularly awful) and the end result is somewhat exhausting.
White Lightnin’ is worth seeing for Hogg's astonishing performance, but it's hard to engage with the film on an emotional level.