Part madcap buddy comedy, part jazz song, part memoir of an abusive marriage, Miles Ahead is something different. Starring Cheadle as the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, the actor also directed, co-wrote and had a hand in producing this film. It’s a strong hand that pays off in this case, with an unusual film.
It flows in such a way that frequent match cuts take you in and out of the past, moving through memory and building a story in the way that a jazz tune is played. It also mimics the confused thinking of a man under the influence.
And Miles Davis was apparently often under the influence of alcohol and cocaine. The main through line of the narrative follows a Rolling Stones reporter David (McGregor) who is desperate to get an interview with the reclusive musician in the '70s. This involves him in a dispute Miles is in with his record label, Columbia – the executives want to get their hands on a session tape that they funded. And like a buddy cop movie, it all gets out of hand very quickly, with car chases, shots fired, and lines delivered with dead pan humour. Miles isn’t afraid to pull a gun, and everyone is keen to get their hands on the tape. Miles is a husky, loudly dressed and volatile presence, while David is tagging along, trying to get what he can for his article but completely out of his depth. It’s often very funny.
During all this, Miles past creeps back, and one beautiful face haunts him. That of his wife, Frances (Corinealdi). He appears to have been at his best with her, musically and socially, but not emotionally. From the start, he is cheating on her, by the end he’s ended her dancing career and is trying to stab her with a kitchen knife. It’s horrible stuff, and makes you question the choice to make the rest of the film so light, full of 70’s bright colours and banter.
Still, while narratives that exalt singers who had questionable interpersonal skills, shall we say, are nothing new, what this film does to the standard biopic format is. Hats off to Mr Cheadle. And while the performances of Cheadle and McGregor are really very good, I was really blown away by Corinealdi, who plays Frances. She has an amazing gracefulness and presence.
Perhaps this is a film that fans of Davis will appreciate the most, but it is an excellent piece of work in its own right and a credit to the talents of Cheadle.
EXTRAS: There's an audio commentary star and director Don Cheadle and writer Steven Baigelman; the featurette The Truth: Becoming Miles Davis (20:33); the Sundance Film Festival 2016 Q&A (21:49), with Cheadle and costars Emayatzy Corinealdi, Ewan McGregor and Keith Stanfield; and a picture gallery.