Don Cheadle, most known for his role in Hotel Rwanda and more recently as Rhode/War Machine in the Iron Man and Avengers films, makes a stunning directorial debut in this biopic about one of the most talented and controversial musicians in music history – Miles Davis. Cheadle approaches this film with admirable ambition, creating a narrative structure and plot as complex as only Miles Davis’ life and music has the right to be.
A meticulously crafted piece of cinematography, Cheadle surrounds himself with a strong cast, specifically in sharing most of his screen-time with Ewan McGregor who plays a Rolling Stone Magazine journalist, poking and prodding at the older 1970s Davis as to why he’s not released music for five years. The structure has us jumping between this coked up and run down Davis and the rise of his stardom in the 1960s when he burst onto the Jazz music scene. The plot progresses through these flashbacks as well as focussing on his fall from fame and broken relationship with dancer Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi) and the corrupt Colombia Records Company businessmen prowling after Davis’ most recent and secretive session tape.
Some shots in the film are, simply put, beautiful. The way Cheadle introduces many of the drugged up hallucinations and inner workings of Davis’ mind is incredible. For instance, combining the hypnotic rotation of records to traverse to a spiralling fall into the first flashback/hallucination. One of the undeniable highlights of the film, however, was the Davis and Dave duo between Cheadle and McGregor that was gripping, hilarious and unpredictable at every turn. Cheadle’s portrayal of Davis was perfect; his raspy voice, “screw everyone” attitude and God-like complex reeled the audience in and reminded everyone how much of a character he really was back in the ’70s.
The plot itself was anything but slow. Initially the audience is eased in to Davis’ current hermit-like lifestyle within his massive household, but we are soon thrown into his rage fuelled perfectionist personality and devilishly dangerous lifestyle. The audience instantly puts themselves in the shoes of the journalist, who is totally taken aback by this lifestyle, but at the same time are utterly mesmerized by it and unable to stop themselves from following Davis’ life out of the blue.
There is definitely a retro vibe to this film, as you would expect, but Cheadle implemented it very well. The smooth jazz soundtrack allowed for the music to become somewhat haunting and ominous in the present time of the film (1970s) and extremely uplifting and enjoyable during Davis’ flashback scenes. This was only heightened by the sleek and silky outfits that Davis sported and the classy west end environments he found himself within the film’s narrative. There is also quite a powerful scene depicting a sense of racial discrimination that was ever-present at this time in America and a disturbing but impactful police brutality sequence that really has the audience behind Miles journey to success against the odds.
You needn’t worry about amateurism. I honestly could not believe this was Cheadle’s first film, but it was clear that the years of hard work he’d put in and dedicated to it were not wasted. Davis may have had a track named “It Never Entered My Mind”, but this film makes me feel as if Cheadle found a way. Miles Ahead was big fun, bursting with complex and addictive characters, an engrossing narrative, a sharp tongued, witty script and a score that entrances the audience all the way to the end where I felt completely rewarded in its conclusion – a real milestone under Cheadle’s belt. Reminiscent of The Coen Brother’s Inside Llewyn Davis, Miles Ahead is musician focussed film built upon beautifully crafted cinematography that you do not want to let slip under the radar.