Miles Ahead

 

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Don Cheadle directs himself as the trumpeter, bandleader and composer Miles Davis in a freewheeling and most unusual biographical sketch.

 

Miles Ahead


  

At his creative peak, the jazz musician Miles Davis produced six influential albums in the space of twelve months. In Don Cheadle’s fanciful biographical sketch, much brouhaha surrounds the appropriation of a single demo tape, his only recording in five years. Cheadle, who not only plays Miles Davis but also directed, co-produced, co-wrote and co-composed the thing, has opted to focus on the creative hiatus in the musician’s life. Furthermore, he’s chosen to make up the film’s story-line, arguing that Davis himself instructed his bandmates not “to play what’s there. Play what’s not there.” Thus, it’s a narrative improvisation, drawing its form from Davis’s own musical style.

 

While a complete fiction, the film presents the usual ingredients of musical biography: the egotism, the cocaine, the booze, the girls, the misanthropy and the domestic showdowns. A complete hermit by 1980, Davis is approached by a journalist (Ewan McGregor) to tell his own side of his story. And so unfolds a madcap farce involving a lot of chicanery, running around and gunplay, punctuated by flashbacks to Davis’s life with his first wife Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi).

 

Cheadle is marvellous as Davis, the music is terrific, but the free association filmmaking is more often irksome than illuminating. It’s a brave approach to a well-worn genre and we do get a measure of the man; but while playful, Davis’s music was never silly. The question we have to ask ourselves is do we want to spend our time with such an arrogant libertine? The cinema is littered with tales of profligate musicians and this, for all its novelty, is yet another one. It does, though, offer us a glimpse of a singular musical talent.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michael Stuhlbarg, Lakeith Lee Stanfield.

 

Dir Don Cheadle, Pro Darryl Porter, Vince Wilburn, Daniel Wagner, Robert Ogden Barnum, Don Cheadle, Pamela Hirsch and Lenore Zerman, Screenplay Steven Baigelman and Don Cheadle, Ph Roberto Schaefer, Pro Des Hannah Beachler, Ed John Axelrad and Kayla M. Emter, Music Robert Glasper and Don Cheadle, Costumes Gersha Phillips, Sound Skip Lievsay.

 

Bifrost Pictures/Miles Davis Properties/LLC/IM Global Films/Sobini Films/Yellowsaw Productions Ltd/Crescendo Productions-Icon. 

100 mins. USA. 2015. Rel: 22 April 2016. Cert. 15.