Intricately crafted with impeccable editing and strong performances, but it was never able to fully grab my attention
Marketed as a ‘biopic of Miles Davis, with a little improvisation’, Miles Ahead is a really interesting take on the Jazz musician’s life. The story follows Davis (Don Cheadle), alongside the fictional Rolling Stone Reporter Dave Brady (Ewan McGregor), as they try to retrieve a stolen tape of one of Davis’ studio sessions. Set in the late 70s, the film constantly switches between the present and the past, with a copious use of flashbacks, all accentuated by the underlying continuous sounds of Davis’ iconic music.
Don Cheadle, having written the script, both directs the film and stars as Davis, and he does an impeccable job. He fully immerses himself in the role, and you believe completely his arrogance, his flair, his alcoholic and drug taking tendencies, and his desperation to do his music his own way. His script captures Davis during his hiatus from music, and with the clever use of the flashback sequences, the audience is prompted to ask the reasons why this legendary musician has ended up where he is.
Alongside Cheadle, McGregor stars as the failing junkie journalist who accompanies Davis on his adventure whilst trying to capture a story of his comeback. The character is a fictional one, and though it helps accentuate Cheadle’s Davis, is somewhat useless. McGregor is a good actor, but he feels wasted in this role (pun intended). The pair work well together, but you do find yourself questioning why they’re even there in the first place.
A surprise stroke of brilliance comes in the form of Emayatzy Corinealdi as Frances Taylor, Miles Davis’ muse and later wife. She is both elegant, and fierce, and there’s a real strength in her performance. In the scene where her and Miles fight when another woman phones the house, she really holds her ground, and this was the scene where I fully appreciated how impressive her performance is.
The real gem of this film though is the editing, and the non-linear narrative. The transitions from the past to the present and back again are done in creative and interesting ways, and there is an effortlessness about the way it happens. Although, it’s not always pitched on the mark, the sense of it being as improvised as a jazz session really does come across. The cinematography is also impressive, albeit sometimes distracting. The opening scene in which Miles Davis is being interviewed about his music is cleverly shot; the use of close-ups create a tense ambience, but one that also captures the eccentric nature of Miles Davis as a character.
The film has its pros and its cons, but it failed to fully grab my attention if I’m honest. It felt like an excuse to throw together a story and some wish fulfillment of Cheadle’s part, of wanting to play Miles Davis and just glorify his music. His music is well used throughout the film, and it’s definitely creative and intriguing. It just wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be, and wasn’t as exciting as I felt it wanted to be. It was a film that lacked strength in its story, and though Cheadle is a wonderful Davis, that was one of the film’s only saving graces.
Miles Ahead (2016), directed by Don Cheadle, is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK by Icon Film Distribution.