Review: The Torch

Directed by Jim Farrell, at 83, Chicago legend Buddy Guy remains the standard bearer for the blues, an icon determined to see the art form live on long after he’s gone. Guy reflects on his legacy and passes along the blues lessons he received from legends Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Also starring: Quinn Sullivan, Carlos Santana, Derek Trucks, Joe Bonamassa and Susan Tedeschi.

Buddy Guy may not be a name you’re familiar with, unless you’re a die hard blues fan but his dedication to music makes The Torch worth watching. Unfortunately, there’s several different stories that Farrell is trying to tell here and they don’t work cohesively as one. It’s most clear in its opening, rather than taking the time to introduce Buddy and how he became a musician, it’s immediately focusing on his mentorship. It sets things out on the wrong foot, then eventually comes back around later to expand on Buddy’s rich history, after it’s spent too much time on Quinn Sullivan. It’s a shame to not see it take a more logical path to really make the most of its story, to guide you from Buddy’s beginnings to his relentless enthusiasm for the genre and how he’s passing that on.

The style also feels pretty basic, it doesn’t manage to capture the spirit of the music it’s exploring. There’s a mixed quality to the performance footage it’s using, some of it just doesn’t have much to add. It really struggles to build an atmosphere, it can’t grasp onto the energy, generosity and charm they’re portraying in Buddy. Its progression is fairly slow and feels as if there was room to make it shorter, especially to help strengthen its focus. It seems to forget that there’s such a big personality with a fascinating story to tell at its heart, and is instead too often wandering away from that to show even more footage of Sullivan, even outside of the mentorship.

There’s also a few more technical issues, particularly the sound mixing, which is constantly moving from loud to a whisper, not quite matching performance to conversation. The editing doesn’t feel connected, moving from one scene to another in a way that’s not always a natural choice for the story. The cinematography and palette don’t provide much variety, and when paired with a fairly one-noted direction, it slows things down further.

The Torch had a great concept to show how Buddy Guy is attempting to secure the future of the blues but it focuses too much on his contemporaries to do that justice. Although it definitely does manage to impart the impression and legacy he’s built for himself. It’s a shame we don’t get to hear more about his early days, getting to play with so many legends but it’s undoubtedly clear that he’s taking his experience and giving that wisdom to those following in his footsteps. It had some good pieces but doesn’t make the most of them to give this story the impact it could have had.

Verdict: ✯✯½ | 5/10

In theaters & on demand from 18 March

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