Review: Miles Ahead
PLOT: An ambitious Rolling Stone reporter (Ewan McGregor) looking to do a story on the reclusive Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) finds himself drawn-in by the troubled musician on a dangerous quest to find his missing session tapes. At the same time, Davis reflects on his turbulent relationship with his ex-wife/muse (Emayatzy Corinealdi).
REVIEW: You really have to hand it to co-writer-director-star Don Cheadle. He really made a great Miles Davis biopic, and did it by adopting a totally unexpected form, by framing Davis latter-day comeback as part of a kind-of showbiz/thriller story. When the movie opens with Davis in a gunfight with a desperate Ewan McGregor bloodied and beaten at the wheel, you know this ain’t gonna be JERSEY BOYS.
While the seventies-set part of the story probably has little basis in reality, it’s a fun way to dive into the Davis mythos. Cheadle doesn’t seem too concerned with fact. His goal here seems to be to evoke the spirit of the man rather than playing out a beat-by-beat version of his story. The impressionistic, sometimes surreal structure is a lot closer to Todd Haynes’s I’M NOT THERE than it is to something like RAY, and Cheadle really seems to have a good handle on the story.
His performance as Davis is also terrific. You can tell he spent years studying his mannerisms and vocal styles, effortlessly adopting his signature raspy voice and gait. He looks cool in the part and makes Davis a likable guy despite his massive flaws which include wife beating, drug abuse, egomania and a violent streak (he spends almost as much time welding handguns as he does his trumpet).
Cheadle’s also assembled a fine cast, with Ewan McGregor having one of his better recent roles as a reporter who starts off trying to exploit Davis but then becomes his sort-of sidekick. The two score drugs together, get drunk, box, bond and eventually fight mobsters together. It’s weird but it’s wildly entertaining and McGregor has fun embracing the heightened vibe Cheadle creates.
On a much more subtle note but just as impressive - maybe more so - is the performance by Emayatzy Corinealdi as Davis’ sophisticated dancer wife, a woman who became his muse despite their often tortured relationship. Corinealdi was excellent in Ava Duvernay’s MIDDLE OF NOWHERE a couple of Sundances back, and she deserves to break-out in a big way. This is a great showcase for her, with plenty of meaty scenes opposite Cheadle.
Cheadle also does an admirable job conveying the scope of Davis’s career, including his own conflicted relationship with his most seminal work, ‘Kind of Blue’ (Davis thought it was mediocre) while loving his follow-up, ‘Sketches of Spain’. The only place it kinda falls flat is when Cheadle maybe gets a little too ambitious with trying to break the mold, including a brief contemporary bit where Cheadle, in character as Davis, plays opposite modern musicians like Herbie Hancock. Still, that’s a minor issue.
The Sundance program described MILES AHEAD as wildly entertaining and I think that’s an apt description. While probably too eccentric to really make a dent critically, Cheadle’s passion project is a total success from my perspective. It’s a film well worth checking out when Sony Classics puts it out in March.