The title of Don Cheadle’s passion project refers to the innovation, revolution and originality found in the music and work of Miles Davis. You may have seen the main poster for the film which features Cheadle with his head down, sunglasses on, clasping his trumpet whilst a cigarette billows sexy smoke from his mouth. The image exudes sex and style but the film itself is a very different being. Narratively speaking, unlike most music biopics, the film takes place over a matter of days. We meet a Miles Davis who’s been out of the music game for half a decade, trapped in his house with chronic pain in his hip and a vicious cocaine addiction. When a Rolling Stones journalist comes knocking at his door and his session tape is stolen from his house by his label, Davis must do everything he can to get back his music. By trying to avoid the blue print narrative which we’ve come to expect thanks to twee musician origin movies such as Walk the Line and Ray, Miles Ahead tangles itself up in what feels like a buddy cop movie. The film attempts to move us through a drug infused haze of past relationship and very brief moments of time in the studio. Half the movie is covered by an insincere and nostalgic filter and the other half feels like a 1970s Seth Rogen creation. Directed, written, starring and partly composed by Don Cheadle, Miles Ahead is overambitious and dreadfully confused. It’s a failed experiment with a strong lead performance from Cheadle who gets lost in the husky, sulky sounds and moods of Davis. Ewan McGregor is bizarrely cast as the journalist who hassles Davis in the hunt for his comeback story. Emayatzy Corinealdi plays Davis’ first wife and muse and, although her performance is great, she’s stuck in a role we’ve seen a hundred times before.
Everything in Miles Ahead is well intended – if for no other reason than for Don Cheadle’s devotion to the project which has spanned many years. Cheadle understands Davis and most of his character is expressed not through words but through his walk, his tone and his rhythm. What Cheadle understands less is flow. The movie jumps awkwardly between different timelines and never quite finds a pace at which we can run with it. The scenes are snappy and quick, perhaps intended to reflect Davis’ cocaine fuelled frenzies but instead you just can’t connect to anything. There is comedy that doesn’t sit right and more slapstick than one would ever have expected or desired. The biggest problem with Miles Ahead is that it simply isn’t any kind of tribute to the music made by the genius behind Bitches Brew. The film closes with an utterly confusing scene and a cringe-worthy message that, in summary, implies that Davis, through his music, lives on. At this point you realise there has been no celebration of his music until this point. After leaving the theatre I was none the wiser about Davis as a man, a musician or anything else. The passion project becomes an ego trip for Cheadle as the film draws to a completely inappropriate close. For a movie about one of the most influential and dynamic musical visionaries of the last century, there is so little about his music to be found. Car chases and domestic disputes take up most of the film, interrupted occasionally so McGregor can get punched. Miles Ahead is an underwhelming salute, suffering from its desperate attempts to be different – making it all the more average and ordinary.
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