Don't call it Jazz, man. ‘Jazz’ is a made up word… It’s ‘Social Music.’
So goes the first of many cantankerous comments made by legendary trumpeter Miles Davis, in Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead. The actor’s directorial debut, Miles Ahead also sees Cheadle playing Davis in a richly drawn and unconventional new biopic.
Rather than spanning Davis’ life and career, Cheadle’s film hinges its narrative on a two day period in the 1970s. We meet Davis at a hiatus in his career: surrounded my media vultures, the musician holes up in his large apartment, taking cocaine and drinking away the days. But when an opportunistic journalist (Ewan McGregor) appears at his doorstep, things take a turn for the adventurous. The pair join forces, taking increasingly reckless steps to preserve Davis’ art and his right to be left in peace.
Miles Davis’ personality unravels through a series of surreal flashbacks, steadily building up a picture of his career, his marriage, and the events leading to this ceased creativity.
There’s plenty to admire here, not least the grainy ‘70s aesthetic, dizzying cinematography and very convincing performance from Cheadle himself. Like recent Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy, Cheadle’s film creates a vivid picture of tortured genius and tired celebrity; also like the latter, Miles Ahead’s narrative leaps back and forward in time with cues that hint towards the musician’s trauma. But unlike the Wilson biopic, which framed itself, first and foremost, in its star's musical creativity, Miles Ahead’s downfall is in trying to make the life it is depicting into an action-packed thrill-ride.
Surely Davis’ life was interesting enough without car chases, gun-fights, and noisy boxing matches to entertain its audience? Cheadle’s decision to ground his narrative on a fictitious event – even creating a fictitious character in McGregor’s Dave Brill – does not add to the drama, but distances us from the true picture of the iconic musician.
Nonetheless Miles Ahead is moving, and the punchy script provides plenty of laughs. With lusty camerawork, an authentic, smoke-infused New York and a lot of jazz, Cheadle has created an effortlessly cool portrait of one of music’s greatest stars.
|What||Miles Ahead film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
22 Apr 16 – 22 Jun 16, Miles Ahead UK release date: 22 April. Times vary according to cinema
|Price||£ determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here to go to the film's IMDB page|