Don Cheadle directs, co-writes and stars in this new film based on jazz legend Miles Davis.
Miles Ahead is not a biopic – at least not in the traditional sense. The poster calls it: “His life – with a little improvisation.” Cheadle interweaves moments from the musician’s life with a drug-fuelled, gun-toting, car-chase caper, in which Davis (Cheadle) and a Rolling Stone journalist (Ewan McGregor) attempt to keep a tape of his music from falling into the hands of an A&R man (Michael Stuhlbarg). Make that a lot of improvisation.
This is a deliberately freeform experiment by Cheadle, with curious results. On the one hand, it’s probably a case of style over substance – substance being the operative word. On the other hand, the film sets out to capture Miles Davis’ unconventional, unapologetic attitude and largely succeeds. We leave the theatre having had plenty of fun but having learnt little about the man – and as Davis would say: So What?
Cheadle’s trippy direction gives the non-linear narrative a wonderfully woozy swagger, with far-out editing by John Axelrad and Kayla Amter. And Cheadle is equally hypnotic in front of the camera, nailing the trumpeter’s scratchy voice and effortless cool. The music scenes are masterful, and the soundtrack combines Davis’ soulful, intimate cool jazz (he called it “social music”) with original compositions by Robert Glasper.
Miles Ahead won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but for those of us suffering from biopic fatigue, this is the best jazz movie since The Aristocats.