Miles Ahead is a compelling film which centres on jazz icon and utter genius, Miles Davis. Instead of creating a typical ‘life-and-times’ flick, Don Cheadle (writer, director and lead actor) has crafted a fictional crime caper set in the 70s, using Davis as the central character. It’s not so much biography as ‘mock-ography.’
Cheadle’s Davis is a coked-out recluse, hiding from the world that eagerly expects his comeback album. Ewan McGregor’s desperate journalist forces his way into Davis’s life, hoping to interview the legendary musician. Like Davis’s music, the film grows in an organic and unpredictable way. Rather than playing linearly, the plot skips forward and back. Large chunks of the film are dedicated to flashbacks which explore Davis’s rocky relationship with the enchanting Frances (Emayatzy Corinealdi).
Cheadle is note-perfect as Davis. He effortlessly flits between the sharp-suited era of Miles to the 70s drugged-out rockstar without missing a beat. Through his outrageous clothes and his leisurely strut, he exudes cool. However, the feature we’re drawn to most is his gravelly, raspy voice. It is barely louder than a whisper, but we hang on to every word he says.
"Cheadle is note-perfect as Davis"
Cheadle aside, a lot of the film comes across as frivolous and feeble. McGregor’s character fits in about as well as his rubbish haircut and he drags the movie into slapstick territory. And even though the film’s premise is novel, it still reverts back to typical biography plot devices like domestic violence and drug abuse.
This film is frustrating. It nearly pulls off what it’s trying to achieve but regrettably it hits a few too many bum notes along the way. Maybe Cheadle should have listened to what his character says in the film: “If you’re going to tell a story, come with some attitude, man.”
More like this: Bird (1988)