There are artists who make music to be sold, and artists who play emotion for emotions’ sake. Miles Davis’ raspy voice and attitude point to the latter. Listening to filmgoers talk about their favorite Miles Davis piece was a great promo for Don Cheadle’s labor of love, the film “Miles Ahead”. Sitting a few minutes before the trailers began and hearing titles like “Nefertiti”, “In A Silent Way” and “Bitches’ Brew” made me smile. Named after one of Mile’s songs, “Miles Ahead”, this film hinges on the great divide between Miles’ early music and his gift to the hip-hop generation. His gift lives on and by the screen showing only his Gemini birthdate, May 26th, 1926, without showing a traditional death date, symbolically, we understand that he lives on.
As director, Don Cheadle uses an impressionistic back and forth pattern to mimic both Miles’ music and the relationship with his wife, Francis Taylor. ( Emayatzy Corinealdi ) The transitions are artful and surprising. The writing and dialogue less so. There is a subplot that incorporates two car chase scenes and myriad gun shots and body guards. Columbia records fares badly with shysters galore. Miles’ sidekick journalist/driver ( Ewan Mcgregor) a tad better.
Cheadle as Miles is a marvel. He looks like he can play the trumpet. His recording sessions are inspiring. The drug use and betrayal and treatment of Francis sad to the core. As a trumpeter, bandleader and composer, we see Miles initially only during the five years where he “dropped from the scene”. A “Rolling Stone” reporter ( Ewan McGregor) of infamous renown tries to get an interview after rumors of a Miles comeback. We hear Miles say ” If you are going to tell a story, come with some attitude, man.” Cheadle attempts to do just this as he shows the artist’s character flaws and genius.
If you like “social music”, the Jazz encore at the film’s end is worth the rather silly reel steal plot. I think every musician will love the Miles’ verbal comeback after he plays a set. Asked to put the feeling into words, he snaps back, ” I just did.” This insufficient bio-op could say the same. Enjoy “Solea” and the pure vibe. Endure the boxing, blood and booze. Clap when Francis speaks, ” I’m the prize, here.” Marital and police abuse mix with drug abuse, but improvisational heights cancel out bathrobe, gold chain, shuffle. Cheadle’s film will push me to delve deeper into Miles Davis.