White Lightnin’ (2009)

Directed By: Dominic Murphy
Written By: Eddy Moretti
  Shane Smith
Starring: Edward Hogg
  Carrie Fisher
  Muse Watson
White Lightnin’

White Lightnin’ is the rather sensationalised account of real life ‘dancing outlaw’ Jesco White. It chronicles his life in the Appalachian Mountains, from childhood to adulthood with all the abuse, grief, drug use, institutionalisation, reform school stints, true love, death and murder in between. When his Father, famous mountain dancer D-Ray White is killed, Jesco takes to the road to continue his legacy, meeting and falling in love with Cilla on the way but never quite outrunning his personal demons.

Edward Hogg stars as the adult version of Jesco White and is an absolute revelation, both charismatic and enigmatic but also frighteningly unhinged. From his first frame to his last, he submerses himself in the role completely and is outstanding, demanding the audience’s attention be on him throughout. With regard to the rest of the cast, the only member worth mentioning is Carrie Fisher. She’s convincing throughout and it’s nice to see her in a role that’s not a cameo or involves her playing herself or a parody of Princess Leia for a change. As for the rest though, it’s really a one-man show with Hogg stealing most of the screen time and dialogue. He also handles the Southern American accent with aplomb and had I not checked beforehand, I would have had absolutely no idea that he’s British.

The film, essentially, is British too. From the UK Film Council, made with lottery money, this is a far cry from their usual efforts. The relatively small budget is hidden well too. With not much need for special effects, this gritty tale is kept afloat by the performances of its competent cast and by the interesting visuals on display from first time director Dominic Murphy.

White Lightnin’ has an almost constant matter-of-fact narration from right inside the head of White and although this technique is so prominent, occasionally verging on being over-used, it seldom grates and serves to punctuate the story with some genuine insight from its protagonist. At times this can seem like merely a lazy storytelling procedure but here it’s almost necessary.

White Lightnin’s soundtrack is utterly incredible. Its grimy, scuzzy mixture of psychobilly and bluegrass, with a hint of country helps to create an almost surreal, but eminently dangerous world in which the characters live. The films look also assists in that department, using filters to appear as though the movie is almost entirely devoid of colour, with only a little more saturation creeping in towards the end. Both these aspects are as key to the storytelling as the dialogue and action are and both are done wonderfully.

While White Lightnin’ isn’t really a horror movie, it contains some truly shockingly violent scenes and although most of the violence occurs off screen, what we’re left with remains immensely wince inducing, despite the absence of gore for the most part.

The movie contains some quite heavy-handed and occasionally laboured religious aspects and while it never comes close to attempted indoctrination, it becomes confusing until the final act, which in and of itself is quite confusing. Clearly fabricated, it still packs a pretty hard punch, which might allow you to forgive the obvious liberties that Murphy has taken with the real life story of Jesco White. A moment’s research will allow you to learn that White is a very interesting man and quite a larger-than-life character so it’s not surprising someone has chosen to make a film about him (in addition to the already existing documentaries).

White Lightnin’ is a wonderfully made film. It’s sometimes difficult to watch, a tad repetitive at times but beautifully shot and almost always engrossing.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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