With Miles Ahead, Co-Writer-Director and star Don Cheadle finally brings his Miles Davis passion project to the screen. However, is it a compelling film or just a vanity project gone awry?
The film covers most of Miles Davis’ (Cheadle) life, but the narrative anchor is in the late 1970s during a period where Davis had retreated from public life. A freelance reporter claiming to be from Rolling Stone, Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor), asks to write Davis’ comeback story when rumors surface that he has been working on new music. The two of them go through an adventure when the tape is stolen and Davis works to reclaim it. As Brill and Davis try to get his recordings back, they have to deal with a slimy music manager, Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his latest artist, jazz prodigy, Junior (Keith Stanfield). All the while, the film dips in and out of flashbacks to detail Davis’ career and personal life, especially his relationship with dancer Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi), who eventually became Davis’ wife. The film also documents Davis’ ongoing issues with substance abuse.
Miles Ahead, its title taken from Davis’ 1957 album of the same name, is a fascinating portrait of Davis’ life and music. He was definitely a flawed individual, as was detailed in his relationship with Frances. I don’t know how true to life everything in the film is—most biopics take some liberties here and there—but Frances weighed very heavy in Davis’ mind as his life went on. The shifting back and forth through time is jarring at first, but just like great jazz, you eventually get into the rhythm and it just flows. That being said, it is really disorienting at the start. The music is, of course, fantastic. Davis was a master and a true artist, which is why he gets into such a huge fight over his tapes in the first place.
Don Cheadle is transformative as Davis. He also does a great job with the script and direction. The film is greatly entertaining and engaging. From what I understand, Cheadle learned how to play the trumpet to take on the role. He is, obviously, not as skilled as Miles Davis, but knowing how to actually play the instrument makes his performance that much more authentic. Corinealdi is excellent as Frances. She brings beauty, style, and grace to the role, making it easy to see why Davis was so obsessively in love with her. McGregor also does a fine job here as Brill, a man who’s only really looking out for himself, but comes to befriend Davis. Stanfield continues delivering great work—I’m just waiting for him to breakout—while Stuhlbarg is excellent as the shady Hamilton.
Overall, Miles Ahead is a very interesting biopic that informs as well as entertains. The narrative can get a little jumbled at times, but in the end, I enjoyed the ride.