Hot Take: Miles Ahead (2016)
Shot in Cincinnati, OH for $8.5 million, Miles Ahead follows jazz musician Miles Davis through two hectic days of his life during a hiatus he took from the music industry in the late-1970s.
There would be no Miles Ahead without Don Cheadle. He wrote, directed, starred in, and composed music for the film. It was clearly a passion project for him.
Instead of choosing a linear storytelling method, Cheadle jumps between the present day and flashbacks of the time he spent with his first wife in the mid-1950s. (Think Pulp Fiction, but with less moving parts.)
Behind the camera, he creates seamless transitions between the two eras. They fold back and forth and on top of each other. At one point, the two eras bleed together.
In front of the camera, Don Cheadle soars. He offers a hazy, sweaty, frantic portrayal of the current-day Davis. Just as easily, however, he shifts gears to the cool, dashing, jazzman of Davis’ younger years.
Long time Miles Davis enthusiasts may take umbrage with the film as it is essentially fiction. Since Davis’ career was both lengthy and important, Cheadle felt that a fictionalized plot representative of his life might be a more effective tool to illustrate the man as a whole.
The filmmakers are adamant that “Miles Ahead” not be considered a biopic, but rather an interpretation of what made the trumpeter tick. “It’s like wall-to-wall truth, not wall-to-wall facts,” explains Cheadle, who says the script ideas he rejected were too traditional in tone, and too aggressive in scope. “We’re much closer to something like historical fiction, where this is a composition of our making, using Miles as our inspiration, our muse, to tell a story from our perspective.”
Cheadle chose to represent Davis as he saw him. While he is presented as an influential star and a musical genius, he also highlights Davis’ womanizing, drug use, and off-kilter abuse of power. It’s not always a pretty picture, but it is a complete one.
As superb as he is in the film, Don Cheadle did not work in a vacuum. Emayatzy Corinealdi plays Davis’ first wife, Frances Taylor. Taylor is portrayed as the love of Davis’ life. Corinealdi was a perfect choice for the role. She is a beautiful and talented performer, but she also possesses an intoxicating charisma that commands the viewer’s attention.
Corinealdi’s performance was every bit as challenging as Cheadle’s. The early scenes recounting the beginning of the couple’s romance are counterbalanced with the later days of Davis’ infidelity. Corinealdi portrayed the love, sadness, and rage in delicate strokes. It’s a heartbreaking interpretation of the character.
This is a great film. All the components work. Writing, acting, and directing are top-notch. Cheadle shines. The chemistry with co-stars Emayatzy Corinealdi and Ewan McGregor (who plays Rolling Stone reporter, Dave Braden) sizzle.
The plot is fairly wild. (A gun-toting Davis and Braden go on a wild romp to retrieve a stolen tape of a recording session.) Watching it, I assumed it was true because it is so over the top at times. I love the film, but I’d love it that much more if it hadn’t been wholly fictionalized.
That being said, Miles Ahead is an excellent film. It is fun and intriguing and bittersweet. It successfully conveys a sense of who Miles Davis was. I highly recommend it.
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