An exploration of the life of jazz trumpet legend Miles Davis (Don Cheadle).
Review by Louise Keller:
Like the improvised nature of jazz, Don Cheadle's biopic about Miles Davis brings a syncopated view on the legendary musician and trumpet player's life as it scats around his turbulent life. We are there during the highs and the lows as he makes magic with his trumpet, meets the woman who makes his life beautiful and the drug dealers for his cocaine fix along with guns and clenched fists. It's an outstanding albeit incomplete portrait filled with the major and minor chords of Davis' musical and personal life. It's a career highlight for Cheadle who assumes a husky voice, wears gold chains, oversized shades, an unruly Afro and pronounced limp for the role; Cheadle co-wrote the screenplay and directed the film.
After Miles Davis' provocative quote 'When you're creating your own shit... even the sky ain't the limit', we meet the man himself who insists if a story is going to be told, it needs to have attitude. Attitude is something of which Davis has plenty and when asked to describe it, he lets the trumpet do the talking. The wonderful thing about Cheadle's film is its freeform structure and the way the past and the present fuse together like a musos' jam session.
Ewan McGregor plays Rolling Stone Magazine journalist Dave Brill, who arrives unannounced at Davis' front door in the late 70s in the hope to get the inside scoop on a possible comeback, after Davis' 5 year hiatus. Their relationship begins with a punch-up and Davis' sense of wry humour is exposed when he talks about his life in such terms as: I was born; moved to New York; met some cats; made some music; made some more music and so on. Cocaine is what Brill and Davis have in common, which is where their mixed-up adventure together begins, amid stoushes with his disgruntled record company and executives.
Always present is Frances (Emayatzy Corinealdi, stunning), the beautiful dancer with whom Davis falls in love and graces one of his record covers - as we weave back and forth from the present to the past. We are there when he first meets her and gives her a $20 bill with his phone number. A passion-filled love affair and their marriage follows, slowly disintegrating into ugliness, amid drugs, infidelity, three-somes and domestic abuse.
The action is often as obtuse as the jazz that permeates throughout and Davis' 1960 Sketches of Spain album gets a good workout. Cheadle makes no attempt to gloss over Davis' imperfections; far from it, the film is a gritty mix of artistry and the low-life. I love the way we are transported into Davis' life, treading on key stepping stones and running over others. Miles Davis fans will be enthralled, while film lovers will be fascinated by the creative result. It may not be a complete biopic, but it delivers a bittersweet taste.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It may be a tad obvious but I would have called this film Sketches of Miles, not only to earmark his iconic and legendary album Sketches of Spain - my first Miles Davis album - but also because it more accurately reflects Don Cheadle's style of exploring the Davis persona on screen. Erratic flourishes, sudden jump cuts out of context, fluid time capsules, soaring solos and a chaotic, cocaine and cigarette-fuelled existence. Miles was more behind the eight ball than ahead of it in his personal life ...
To the extent that the film sketches his personality, it succeeds quite well, even it is frustratingly incomplete - and frustratingly short of his music. Cheadle does make good use of the soulful Solea track from Sketches of Spain, though, and Cheadle's playing the trumpet adds veracity and texture. His performance as Miles is a careful, sensitive study of the man most of us know only from the tip of his trumpet. He isn't afraid to show his idol as a flawed, intemperate, foul mouthed coke addict - as well as a musical genius.
Ewan McGregor plays the hapless music journalist Dave Brill, who has taken it upon himself to confront the legend at his front door, demand an interview with loud bashing and proceed to prod him into making his comeback after a five year silence.
Emayatzy Corinealdi is wonderful as his beloved Frances, with whom he has a stormy relationship - not too surprisingly for a musical genius. Michael Stuhlbarg is appropriately sleazy as Harper Hamilton, the opportunistic music scout and Austin Lyon is cool as the talented young trumpet player in Hamilton's care.
The film is certainly no hagiography, and it fills us with a mixture of admiration and pity for a man who was afflicted with a hard to bear talent mixed with demons he couldn't shake. Perhaps I was expecting something different, something more satisfying and whole, but I'd say I got 3/4 of my expectations.
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MILES AHEAD (M)
CAST: Don Cheadle, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Ewan McGregor, Michael Stuhlbarg, Lakeith Lee Stanfield, Austin Lyon, Nina Smilow, Christina Karis, Joshua Jessen, Theron Brown
PRODUCER: Don Cheadle, Robert Ogden Barnum, Pamela Hirsch. Darryl Porter, Daniel Wagner, Vince Wilburn Jr, Lenore Zerman
DIRECTOR: Don Cheadle
SCRIPT: Don Cheadle, Steven Baigelman
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roberto Schaefer
EDITOR: John Axelrad
MUSIC: Robert Glasper
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Hannah Beachler
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 5, 2016