Miles Davis is considered to be one of the most talented and influential jazz musicians in history. A trumpeter and composer, Davis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, 15 years after his death in 1991. Actor-turned-director Don Cheadle examines Davis at a low point in his life. And while “Miles Ahead” is beautifully edited and startlingly raw, Cheadle chooses to fabricate the entire story of Davis’ comeback and turns the story into a musical thriller of sorts. One that doesn’t always work.
Set in late ’70s New York City, Davis is at a point in his life where retirement hasn’t very much suited him. He is practically a hermit. Living off of alcohol and an attitude miles wide, he’s set to produce music for his record company. It’s something he claims to have accomplished, but Davis is reluctant to hand over his new music without proof of payment first.
Enter Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor), a reporter who intends to exploit Davis in order to get a story. But when Davis’ record in stolen, Brill instead turns into an accomplice to the musician, running around the city and getting themselves into trouble in order to get the record back before it’s forcibly handed over to the studio.
Anyone expecting “Miles Ahead” to be a run-of-the-mill biopic about a legendary musician will be either disappointed or surprised. Cheadle’s decision to turn the biopic into a thriller is bold and frankly, unprecedented. And it’s a choice that stands out among its peers, even if it doesn’t always work in the story’s favor.
Cheadle directs with a deft hand, intricately weaving each scene so that it plays dramatically off of the one before it. In this respect, it never misses a beat, flowing smoothly from one scene to the next. Between the masterful editing and the sultry music, “Miles Ahead” is able to draw us in, but goes on for too long and falls a bit flat about halfway through, not quite able to crescendo in its final act.
Cheadle, however, truly immerses himself in his role as Davis. McGregor plays a sidekick of sorts and the two of them run amok, their personalities and intentions as different as night and day, but their one goal clear. However, it’s Emayatzy Corinealdi (“Middle of Nowhere”) who is really the breakout as Davis’ wife, Frances Taylor. She shares some very emotional scenes with Cheadle and stands strong against a backdrop of domestic violence and neglect.
“Miles Ahead” is certainly one of the most ambitious biopics to come out in a while, and Cheadle goes all out in this fabricated turn of events that probably hold very little, if any, truth. The film is visually captivating and produces a heightened sense of inclusion into Davis’ life. However, it’s a bit too ambitious in certain respects, failing to maintain interest and losing its way by eventually making it primarily about the thrill and less about Davis. And while Cheadle’s ambitions for his first directorial feature don’t completely pan out in terms of story, “Miles Ahead” at least stands out in its unique execution, if nothing else.
Don Cheadle's ambitions for his first directorial feature don't completely pan out in terms of story, but "Miles Ahead" at least stands out in its unique execution, if nothing else.