He didn’t pee his pants, but he was still cool.
After taking over the world of jazz and music altogether, Miles Davis (Don Cheadle), for one reason or another, inexplicably left the public eye, left to scour and hang out in his apartment, where people couldn’t bother him, nor could they even ask him questions about the next album he’ll make. It was just Miles, his music, his drugs, his booze, and his occasional friend popping on through. One day, however, he gets a knock from Rolling Stone writer Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) who absolutely insists on getting a one-on-one story with Miles, if not just for the music, but for the sake of his fans around the world. While Miles doesn’t necessarily agree to a story, he does allow for Dave to hang around with him on these next few days, where he’ll go to his label, get in fights with high-as-hell college kids, and think hard and long about the past love he had with a woman named Frances (Emayatzy Corinealdi) – someone he clearly still loves, misses and wants back in his life, even if she doesn’t want anything to do with him, or the drugged-up life he’s created for himself.
Pretty fly for a white guy.
There’s no denying that Don Cheadle got to make the Miles Davis biopic he has been so clearly and passionately been trying to do for nearly his whole career. And thankfully, that kind of biopic isn’t the typical, run-of-the-mill pieces we’re all so used to and annoyed of. Sure, if you have an interesting enough subject to work with, I bet using the old formula of rags-to-riches may work, but for someone like Miles Davis, it doesn’t seem to fit. If anything, a biopic made about the man, the myth, and yes, the legend, needs to be as idiosyncratic, as unpredictable, and as wild as the man himself was.
And yes, Don Cheadle gets a chance to make that movie.
Does it always work? No, not really. But is it at least entertaining and a lot better than some of the yawn-inducing passion projects we’ve seen from Hollywood stars cut from the same cloth as Don Cheadle? Yes, and that’s perhaps its best attribute.
Throughout Miles Ahead, Miles Davis is seen as a bad-ass who takes his gun out, points it at people, kicks people’s asses, says what he wants, does what he wants, and doesn’t like to mince words or emotions with people he doesn’t care about, or at all. What Miles Davis wants to do, as we can tell from this movie, is just live the life he wants to live. That’s why, for the longest time, Miles Ahead plays very much like a toned-down, but relaxed character-study where, occasionally, we’ll get a random action-sequence with Miles Davis running for his life, or getting in a car-chase, or shooting random people, but we’ll still get those smaller, more humane moments of character where we get a chance to see Miles Davis as the man behind the legend.
Sure, we’ll see and get to hear a lot of what we expected from Davis, but at its heart, Miles Ahead wants to also show that there was a more painful and aching heart deep within Miles Davis that didn’t always shine through with the people around him, but was definitely around and made him the rough, tough and ragged some people obviously saw him as. That’s probably why, as Miles Davis, Don Cheadle was a great choice; Cheadle himself can do meek and mild quite well, as well being funny and gritty, all at the same time. Even when it seems like Miles Davis is a mean, almost despicable human being who doesn’t care for those who actually love and support him, Cheadle will show a small bit of humanity that will make us sympathize with this character a bit more, even while we’re laughing at everything he does.
That said, Miles Ahead is definitely an uneven movie.
There’s always one lady to ruin a man’s soul. This is that lady.
You can definitely tell that Miles Ahead is Cheadle’s first movie as a director, because it doesn’t always tonally work. Certain sequences where someone’s shot, beat-up or severely injured, will be played for laughs, in a dark kind of way, whereas in the next scene, we’ll get a flashback to a time when life was lovelier and simpler for Davis. It’s good that we get these scenes and in a way, I don’t mind the scenes of violence and ass-kicking, but after awhile, you start to question what kind of movie Cheadle wanted to make. Did he want to make a heartfelt, detailed and emotional tribute to the man we all knew as Miles Davis? Or does he want to make a fun, exciting and wild tale about Miles Davis, someone who, yes made some great music, but also took plenty of pleasure in knocking people out when push came to shove?
Honestly, I never fully figured that out. However, I will give Cheadle credit for at least trying something new, fun and interesting with the biopic formula. Cause, if anything, I wished the movie would have been more about Davis hanging out/around with Ewan McGregor’s Dave Braden. McGregor, believe it or not, is actually quite charming here and gives Braden a personality that goes beyond just being an annoying, overly clingy journalist who just hounds Davis for answers to his questions. Together, too, they have a great bit of chemistry that is definitely unusual, but still works because they share something of an understanding that there’s a certain love of music between the two and therefore, they need a little excitement out of life. Even though Braden may not be a totally interesting character, he and Davis still feel like the oddest, if well-matched buddies ever put on the screen.
Especially in a musical biopic of Miles Davis.
Consensus: As Cheadle’s directorial debut, Miles Ahead works as a nice, well-acted change-of-pace from the typical biopic formula, but also feels a bit uneven and could have definitely benefited from a few reworkings.
7 / 10
Miles! I want to party with you!
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire