The man, a fair bit of myth and a whole lotta legend
It what may be my favourite bit of description from the year so far director/co-writer/lead Don Cheadle describes ‘Miles Ahead’ as being a ‘metaphorical’ biopic of Miles Davies. Fact and fiction are rather skillfully blended to pay tribute to an incredible musician, a leader of the genre that should be called ‘social music not jazz’. For better or for worse (depending on your view) this is not a typical music biopic – it’s free from the cliches that come with it – instead favouring a magnificent mooch-like approach in exploring the lives and loves of a true musical legend.
It’s 1979 and Miles Davies (Don Cheadle) has been a recluse for five years. A rumoured comeback – not that Davies himself would call it that – is being heard on the grapevine. Having lost this muse Frances (Emayatzy Corinealdi) and his ‘lip’ thanks to self-medicating a variety of drugs, word gets around that Miles has actually recorded some new music – only he’s refusing to give it to his record label Columbia. That’s when Rolling Stone journalist Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor) literally comes a-knocking on his door. The attempted interview between the pair quickly descends into utter chaos – involving drug deals, shootouts, car chases, stolen records and a few trips into memory lane.
The greatest thing about this film is the fact that when watching it it is clear that you are watching a passion project. The adoration that Cheadle clearly feels towards Miles Davis pays off completely and shines through every mannerism or rasping of dialogue. Even when high as a kite or desperately searching for his next hit he is shown to be a true man of sharp-suited cool. And even when slightly darker sides of his personality come out – such as in the flashbacks of his relationship with Francis – he is still a character we can connect with even when we may not like him at that particular moment. His self-destruction is portrayed with such affection by Cheadle – it shines through his eyes in every scene.
The events of the film are mostly fictional, inspired by the past as opposed to retelling. It’s a unique touch, a very ambitious touch at that, and one which mostly pays off in how well it reflects its subject. This is also emphasised by the construction of the film, with neat little choices of direction allowing for the present to seamlessly blend into the past. It’s not typical ‘day in the life’ fayre, nor is it rise and fall narrative. Instead the film drifts, swaggers if you will, from one moment to the next.
Like Davis the film is smooth, if occasionally rather frustrating in terms of its storytelling. It is hugely enjoyable and incredibly well-acted. And, like the man himself, never boring.