ReelBob: Miles Ahead
By Bob Bloom
“Miles Ahead” is more a snapshot of a small slice of the famed musician’s life rather than a standard biopic.
The film is a very personal project for Don Cheadle, who not only stars, but directs and co-wrote the screenplay.
Cheadle may be an admirer of Davis, but he is not afraid to show this complex artist’s many sides — especially his dark ones.
Cheadle does not shy away from displaying the rage within Davis, as well as his drug abuse, violence, egotism and self-centeredness.
He also shows the musician’s genius, drive, desire for perfection — and raw talent.
The film covers just a few years in Davis’ life and career, centering on a low point when Davis did not record or perform.
“Miles Ahead” bends and curves; at times, it is surreal, other times, hallucinatory. Yet, it is Davis’ “social music” that grounds the feature in the real world.
Davis was a musician who disdained labels. He refused to call his music jazz, feeling the term was confining. He believed music was a communal experience with the artist sharing his notes with his audience.
As in most biopics, “Miles Ahead” blurs the line between fact and fiction. Does it matter? Davis purists and aficionados may be upset or offended, but for the casual music lover who knows Davis only by name or reputation, the film should prove satisfying.
It is dominated by Cheadle’s dead-on performance. He captures Davis’ gravely voice and his outspokenness, as well as his volatile nature, which can erupt at the slightest provocation.
His Davis is a demanding individual, believing that his talent is his key to opening whatever doors he deems necessary.
The rest of the cast, unfortunately, pales in comparison.
Ewan McGregor as Dave Brill, a writer who intrudes into Davis’ life to write a “comeback” story about the musician, is rather erratic, jumping from ally to exploiter and back again.
Keith Stanfield as Junior, a fellow musician (and junkie) is mostly a one-dimensional presence, while the usually dependable Michael Stuhlbarg as a sleazy record company executive and fixer also offers a one-note performance.
The one character who displays nearly as much complexity as Cheadle is Emayatzy E. Corinealdi as Frances, Davis’ wife who gave up a promising dancing career to devote herself to her musician husband — only to be betrayed and abused.
“Miles Ahead” is not an easy movie to watch. To his credit, Cheadle shows how the collateral damage to others becomes subservient to the demands of genius.
The story is told in riffs, starts and stops, like a free-flowing musical piece. At some moments, you may feel lost and confused, but during many other sections, you will feel yourself lifted by the music and, more importantly, the man.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
3 stars out of 4
(R), strong language, violence, nudity, sexual content, drug use