“Miles Ahead” is nothing if not ambitious. This Miles Davis biopic is obviously a passion project for Don Cheadle (who not only plays the lead but also co-wrote, produced and directed the film), but the unconventional style and tone simply doesn’t work as a whole. I’m not saying that Cheadle isn’t a skilled director, I just think he needs more on-the-job training to get better at it. This is his directorial debut and his confused style simply needs a bit more focus — and that’s something you gain from experience.
The movie is visually frustrating and mixes far too many filmmaking styles to the point where it quickly becomes an exasperating mess. I tried to internally argue that maybe Cheadle was attempting to capture the visual feel of jazz, the music genre associated with liberating riffs and the freedom to drastically shift moods and tempos without limitation. I still have been unable to convince myself that this is the case and instead I have to face the facts: this film stumbles and never fully recovers.
The story is mostly fictional fantasy, so don’t go in expecting to learn anything significant or meaningful about Davis’ life. The film neglects to portray much of the creative inspiration or background of the troubled and talented artist. Even the few random true bits are tackled with great poetic license, making the film feel like everyone involved was trying way too hard to prove they could make an unconventional biopic.
“Miles Ahead” takes place over the span of a few days in the late 1970s and focuses on a strained crime caper plot where Miles (in an effortlessly cool performance from Cheadle) and shaggy-haired Rolling Stone reporter Dave (the ever charming Ewan McGregor) set out to reclaim a secret session recording that has been stolen by slimy agent Harper Hamilton (played in an over-the-top caricature style by Michael Stuhlbarg).
The fictional aspect of the story is unnecessary and feels more like a slap in the face than what should have been a thoughtful tribute to the musical legend and cultural icon. You won’t learn anything about the famous trumpeter’s life or career as the film chooses to focus instead on ridiculous shootouts, car chases, cocaine-fueled parties and boxing matches. At least we get a few glimpses into the personal background of the man, mostly about his estranged wife Frances (the lovely Emayatzy Corinealdi), told in way too brief flashbacks. Sadly, the set pieces are more enjoyable than the story. The real star should’ve been Davis’ music, and there’s not enough of it.
For its sheer ambition, “Miles Ahead” earns an extra half star. The film is worth seeing if you are a fan of Miles Davis, but it’s not as good as I wanted it to be. In a word: disappointing.
Matt was unavailable for review.