Don Cheadle is an actor I’ve admired since he burst onto the scene in such films as Boogie Nights in the mid 1990s. I’ll have to admit that I never thought of him as being the ideal choice to portray such an iconic figure as the great jazz trumpeter, Miles Davis, but having seen him in the role I can’t imagine any other actor embodying the role in the way that Cheadle does in the biopic Miles Ahead. His performance is simply note-perfect-no pun intended-from every available angle, both the physical and otherwise. If only the film were as good as Cheadle’s total immersion into the role then we would have something to discuss.
The film is clearly a labor of love for its star. Not only does Cheadle tackle the lead role but he also directed the film and had a hand in the film’s writing and musical departments. Cheadle’s direction is fine. It’s actually a quite stylish affair when you get right down to it.
The film’s perfectly captures the milieu of both the late 70s and the 1950s, the two time periods on which the film focuses. Everything is tightly shot and the dramatic stuff is adrenaline charged. It would be hard to argue with Cheadle’s directing capabilities and I actually would be curious to see what he might do should he choose to direct another film in the future.
The majority of the film’s problems can be found in the scripting choices. Davis, of course was a legend in the musical field of jazz and any film biography would have its work cut out for it. Instead of focusing on the man’s musical abilities, however, too much of the film instead zeroes in on the hermetic lifestyle that overtook Davis in the late 1970s. It’s clear that more than a small amount of the film is most likely a work of fiction. That’s not a big surprise as most musical biopics do take dramatic license. Miles Ahead, though, seems to stretch the truth more than most.
The bulk of the film transpires during the late 70s when Columbia record executives were anxiously awaiting the next Davis album after the artist’s semi retirement. Ewan McGregor turns up as a Rolling Stone reporter looking to get the scoop. The master tapes for Davis’ new album are stolen by a producer who sends his new protégée to carry out the deed. It isn’t long before the reporter and Davis are embroiled in a wild goose chase to recover the tapes, including wild shoot-outs and the like. The film occasionally cuts back to Davis’ earlier days to give a sense of where he came from but it’s just not enough. As a result Miles Ahead is an occasionally interesting but never quite successful take on a subject that is certainly deserving of a better film.
Photo: Don Cheadle as Miles Davis in Miles Ahead
Miles Ahead is playing in Charlotte.
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