STARRING: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michael Stuhlbarg, Keith Stanfield, Austin Lyon, Jeffrey Grover, Joshua Jessen, Theron Brown and JT Thigpen
An exploration of the life and music of Miles Davis.
Miles Ahead transports us to late 70’s Manhattan where we find Miles Davis living reclusively, going through his coke-addiction phase when a Rolling Stone journalist by the name of Dave Brill arrives at his doorstep. While Dave hopes to get an exclusive interview with Davis he manages to get more than he bargained for as the two team up to retrieve a stolen tape containing new music that Davis has been recording in his home studio.
Miles Ahead tells the story about jazz musician Miles Davis……rather loosely. The film may come with a biographical genre tag on cinema listings as well as searching for online information of the film, but it definitely serves more as a story that Davis would’ve loved to play. The story is mostly filled with fiction, unapologetically so in comparison to biopics that have come before it and in my mind this works in the films favour. We’re transported to the late 70’s where Davis is living alone, suffering from drug addiction and appears to be going through a creative block in terms of his music playing ability. A Rolling Stone journalist arrives at his doorstep to get an exclusive interview for his ‘comeback’, which leads to the appearance of a tape containing new music that Davis has been recording in his home studio, and given his self-imposed five-year exile from the industry, everyone wants a piece of it, leading to a wild chase from Davis and the journalist Dave Brill set out to retrieve the stolen tape.
The film opens with an interview in progress with Miles Davis and when he begins to play trumpet, we’re transported through this wild tale of a period of which Davis himself could not remember and he no longer worked as a musician, giving Cheadle reign to tell a story that pushes the boundaries of a biopic label and make it engaging for the viewer to watch. Honestly I never found it boring throughout the duration as I enjoyed the interplay between Miles Davis and Dave Brill on screen. Don Cheadle gives his best performance (possibly to date) since Hotel Rwanda for me as Miles Davis, filled with confidence playing Miles as a character rather than an icon, though getting to shine in the recording sessions told in flashbacks that actually remain the most truthful part of the film. A performance that really caught my attention was Emayatzy Corinealdi playing Frances Taylor, the woman that Miles fell in love with and married for ten years, despite the domestic violence in their relationship. Again, their story is told in flashbacks which also feels as truthful to the sources like the recording sessions, Corinealdi has this natural presence on screen and brings weight to the material that some will have seen before and yet feel fresh thanks for her portrayal. Ewan McGregor is good as Dave Brill, the Rolling Stone reporter that is completely fictional and yet it won’t bother you in the slightest as his interactions with Cheadle helps move the film along. There is a few times in the film where I have to admire the way it is edited and there’s one specific sequence, in which the madness of Miles Davis life collides around a boxing ring, from trying to retrieve his stolen tape, to his wife running away from a flashback moment, to a live performance in a boxing ring, it’s as mad as it sounds and yet masterfully edited that it might be my favourite scene of the year so far.
Some viewers may be put off by the fact the film spends more time developing on the fictional side of the story rather than showing us more of what is more truthful, yet with so much material to do with and a collection of Miles Davis’ music which spans five decades, I felt Cheadle done well with the overall execution of the film here. It has its flaws here and there with certain scenes feeling too long or they don’t add to the overall story arc being told.
For a directorial debut, it’s a daring effort from Don Cheadle to finally get his passion project out there and personally for me I found it to be a riveting tale of portraying an eccentric quality to not only Davis himself, but the style of which he played his music. It might rely too much on the fictional aspect that people expecting a proper biopic telling of the musician may feel alienated by the whole experience. 7/10