• Celebrities tend to say, “We live normal lives just like everybody else.” and they actually mean it. See, celebrities, depending on their public image, do live boring day-to-day lives. There will be a lot of great figures in society who probably won’t get the biopic treatment due to this fact. After all, there is no money in a boring story. The biopics we tend to get are those of tortured souls and Don Cheadle, who stars, directs and help write Miles Ahead, makes sure to add a bit of fiction to make sure Miles Davis’ is that much more tortuous.

    MILES AHEAD is not just about the music. It’s about what we all face at one time or another in our lives; questions about who we really are, what we have to say and how will we say it. How will we ultimately be defined and who gets to say so?

    Miles Ahead focuses on a five year stretch in which jazz legend Miles Davis was suffering from a degenerative hip condition and washing his life away with drugs during the 1970s. Don Cheadle and fellow screenplay writer Steven Baigelman throw in a fictional character in Ewan McGregor’s Dave Braden, who falsely claims to be sent by The Rolling Stone magazine to cover a story on the jazz legend’s potential comeback story. Braden is not the only character created for this biopic as Michael Stuhlbarg plays the unscrupulous record producer who sends his goons to steal an unheard recorded studio session from Miles Davis.

    Don Cheadle, as a director, avoids the basic cradle-to-grave biopic story arc but still falls for a common biopic issue, overlooking the artistry for the misery. If a viewer entered Miles Ahead knowing very little on the Miles Davis then they would walk away from the film knowing more about Davis’ drug problems rather than his contribution to the music industry. And yes, Davis gave music studios way more than gun threats and demands for his money.

    The flashbacks that are intertwined throughout Miles Ahead is meant to resemble Davis’s jazz improvisations but Cheadle fails in doing so. The flashbacks convolutes the film which is upsetting as this is the only way viewers get a glimpse of Davis’ golden days.

    Cheadle does not hit the right notes as a director but sure does a great job as an actor. He portrayal of the jazz legend is spot on from the raspy whisper to Davis’ paranoia. Miles Ahead might of not gotten it correct but the amazing jazz sequences does bring Miles Davis’ music to life and that is always the goal with a biopic.

  • Miles Ahead, a biopic of jazz giant Miles Davis that’s decidedly not straight and all chaser, comes at you in free-form fragments that segue into tangents that follow fanciful whims that tangle into kaleidoscopes. Don Cheadle who, as co-producer, co-writer, director, and star, is everywhere to be found in this film, eschews the usual linear narrative to deliver a generally impressionistic, often messy, sometimes head-scratching, but mostly intriguing look at the volatile trumpeter.

    “I was born, I moved to New York, met some cats, made some music, did some dope, made some more music,” Davis declares, providing his back story to fictional Rolling Stone journalist Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor). Only framed record covers and sycophantic fans and hangers-on allude to Davis’ glory days. The Davis that dominates the film is reclusive and drug-addled, remaining silent while his record label and devoted fans clamour for more music, more interested in chasing the next high than any Euterpian stirrings. He’s in no mood to talk to the persistent Braden until the writer promises to both score him some cocaine and help him retrieve some private recordings from Columbia Records, though not necessarily in that order.

    Cheadle and co-screenwriter Steven Baigelman fashion this framing device into an After Hours-type odyssey, one in which Davis and Braden dodge bullets and shady characters to recover an audio reel that contains the first tracks of music that Davis has recorded in years. It’s a puzzling story thread on which to anchor a biographical film, but it allows Cheadle the director to play with incongruous and improvisational transitions to flashbacks of Davis in earlier times, specifically his troubled romance with dancer Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi), who gave up her career at his insistence. Taylor, whose visage adorned the cover of Davis’ “My Prince Will Come”, represents the muse that had the most lingering impact on both the man and his music, but Cheadle makes it clear that it was Davis who let her slip through his fingers with his infidelities and stormy moods.

    One has to applaud Cheadle not just for his fully committed and excellent performance but also for his ambitions behind the camera. He and Baigelman come up with some clever conceits, including the creation of the meta-fictional Junior (Keith Stanfield), a budding musician managed by the unctuous Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg) who is essentially his younger self. Cheadle the director executes several remarkable flourishes, most notably the sequence set in a boxing ring that plays like a hallucinatory frenzied romp. Editors John Axelrad and Kayla Emter do very fine work, seamlessly melding past and present often within the same frame whilst also displaying the experimental dissonance that Davis employed in his chords.

    The inherent problem with Cheadle’s approach is the difficulty of attuning to its wavelength. One is never quite sure where it’s going and, while that unpredictability was part and parcel of what made Davis’ music so essential, that very same unpredictability makes for frustrating viewing, especially when coupled with a confused main storyline. Cheadle rarely, if ever, delves into what made Davis tick, what made him self-destructive as a man, what made him so unique as a musician. Miles Ahead is all surface, both glossy and jagged, and while its inventions are to be admired, they do nothing to shed light on a man whose musical legacy likely tells us all we need to know.

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