I watched a documentary on Jesco White’s family back in 2010. What I remember most is just how dysfunctional the family is, but at the same time they maintained a tight bond. It was interesting to see and definitely memorable. White Lightnin’ isn’t another documentary, and I’m really not sure how much of it is based on reality. The story of White is plagued by drugs, death, alcoholism, and possible mental illness. But dammit this is a great movie. One thing that struck me is how much of the movie is in black and white. You feel like you’re really in the backwoods of West Virginia, in what seems like an area that has frozen in time.
The best performance is from Edward Hogg, who is very convincing as an adult Jesco White. He hovers between a man who is trying his best to stay clean, but when old habits come back they do so in full force. It’s exciting and refreshing to watch. The one aspect I’m not too sure about is just how much of the story is true. Obviously much has been dramatized for the big screen, but where does the line between fact and fiction end? White Lightnin’ insists on blurring that line throughout the movie. I decided to do a bit of research, and discovered that even some of the outlandish bits have a grain of truth. Not as much truth as I would like, but at least some of it isn’t blatant lies.
So what about the rest of the movie? Well, to be honest I’m surprised I like it as much as I do. It’s an odd mix of exploitation and 70’s horror, but it works together so well. The cast does an amazing job playing these characters that it seems like they’re actually being themselves, not acting. And the whole story is so weird that I can’t help but love it. I give it 4/5. It’s one of the few “biopics” that is done right, even if they’re questions about how valid it truly is. It’s a well made film, and I say add it to your collection. You won’t regret it.