Miles Ahead review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Miles Ahead makes itself clear from the very first scene that our hands will not be firmly held in this biopic on jazz legend Miles Davis. Don Cheadle plays the lead role with a cigarette in hand and large sunglasses, refusing to let us all the way in during the opening interview. He’s standoffish, intimidating, and refuses to be pinned down, preferring that his music not to be labeled as jazz as he finds it limiting. With this kind of attitude for a man at the twilight of his career, we’re merely along for the ride of trying to understand his rocky world.
One such person trying to peel back the man behind the music is Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor), a reporter from Rolling Stone trying to get the scoop on Davis. It’s not easy. Davis rarely talks to anyone after having been such a success. The only times he seems to talk is when he feels he has been represented or believes he is being robbed. While waking up, he calls into a radio station to correct the announcer, refusing to cooperate with an impromptu interview. He bursts into a record office and threatens those that own his music at gunpoint. If Braden hopes to keep up with Davis, he’ll have to gain his attention in a big way.
Braden manages to get on Davis’ good side by enticing him with vice. There’s a particularly great exchange when they both go to visit a cocaine dealer Braden happens to know. The price is high but Braden is able to talk down the price reasoning that Davis’ records have gotten him laid more than any in his collection. It’s a hilarious and also sobering moment that gives a mere glimpse into the more personal past of an inspirational icon.
That’s just from Braden’ perspective though. The film itself jumps around in time from inside Davis’ mind where we skip back and forth from the past, witnessing in bits and pieces the developing romance between him and Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi). We see their relationship slowly rise with great passion that soon grows distant, both literally and emotionally. It isn’t too long before Miles calmer demeanor sours with both age, career, and the racial tensions of the time. Soon, as seen in non-linear fashion, the music becomes more important to him than anything, where the bulk of the film is him trying to retain ownership of what he loves most.
Cheadle, who also directed and co-wrote this film, gives a brilliant performance as Davis, playing both the chiller version of the younger Davis and the raspier older man who has grown disillusioned with almost everything in life. Most impressive is how well Cheadle eases into the musical scenes of playing trumpet, from Davis’ more golden days to his older years of ambling around his apartment while casually painting and playing music in his robe. But the film makes sure not to linger too long on the grim aspects, staging Davis’ life as an exciting one of many chases, heated arguments, and a few fights, one beautifully shot at a boxing ring where in his head, a younger version of Davis jams in the ring while the scuffle goes on in the crowd.
While Cheadle’s biopic on Miles Davis isn’t exactly the most encompassing of the story behind the legend, picking out the juiciest bits for the best entertainment, it never bores. It’s a presentation that seems a bit of a far cry from his smoother music; I used to walk to college every day with The Birth of Cool on my MP3 player which always made me feel a little more confident and inspired for the day. But the film certainly accomplishes its goal of showcasing how a man of such richly beautiful music had a life most rocky.