Sunday, April 24, 2016

MILES AHEAD (2016)

Written by Steven J. Baigelman & Don Cheadle


Directed by Don Cheadle


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. April 4, 2016 5:50PM


Miles Davis, considered one of the most influential and innovative jazz musicians, is finally getting a cinematic treatment of his life and times. Don Cheadle is making his directorial debut with "Miles Ahead" in which he also co-wrote, produced and stars as the iconic performer. As an actor, Cheadle perfectly embodies the prickly, damaged and unpredictable soul of this genius musician. And as a director, he's an adventurous and stylish film maker yet "Miles Ahead" still fails to build enough momentum to soar the heights he was aiming to reach.

Mr. Cheadle has wisely avoided trying to cover the entire life of Mr. Davis and has focused on a specific period in the late '70's where he had essentially withdrawn from public life for a number of years. Holed-up in his Manhattan home surrounded by mess and clutter while at a creative standstill, at least partially due to his substance abuse, Davis is in need of some cash. He calls his record label to send him a check but they want new music from their artist first.

Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor), a reporter for Rolling Stone, arrives at his door unannounced to do a story and receives a sucker punch by the ornery Davis for his trouble. After this rocky start, the two men, though still quite wary of each other, come together to work out a solution. Taking the opportunity to hopefully get an exclusive, Braden chauffeurs Davis to Columbia Records where he demands a check. After he fires off his gun, Davis is able to shake down an executive for a little money.

The next stop is to a college dorm where Braden takes Davis to meet a rich, drug-dealing student. While the kid is a fan of the musician, they don't have enough cash to score. But he's willing to settle for a few signatures on some albums to make up the difference. One cover features Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi), Davis' former wife. That lovely image (along with some coke) triggers memories of their better days as a couple. Though flashbacks, we see the beginning of their love affair after Davis first spotted this model/dancer entering a nightclub until the relationship dissolves in to bitter jealousy and violent outbursts.

Mr. Cheadle sharply shifts between Davis' past and present, displaying his paranoid rages, sex and drug fueled binges and the painful resentment of being a famous and respected musician yet still dismissed in society, particularly by law enforcement, as just another black man in America. This is made even more effective by his lived-in performance, capturing the musician's effortless cool and his, at times, frightening behavior.

The standard filmed biography usually follows a pattern of detailing many of the highlights and low points of the celebrated subject's life.There are certainly always creative alterations made to their stories, with time restraints the obvious factor however "Miles Ahead" is complete bullshit. There was never a reporter hounding Davis for a story before quickly gaining the confidence of the suspicious musician. In fact this character was created mainly for the purpose of securing financing by having a major white star in the film.

Considering the unfortunate current movie-making climate, it's somewhat understandable to make such a major compromise. Yet the film can never overcome feeling like a fictionalized story that happens to involve a non-fictional Miles Davis. A subplot involving a seedy music producer (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his protegee (Keith Stanfield), a talented young trumpeter that he wants the legendary trumpeter to endorse, stealing Davis' demo tapes that leads to a wild car chase and more gun-fire only adds to the unbelievable nature of the film.

"Miles Ahead" is consistently watchable, features some fine supporting performances (particularly by Ms Corinealdi) and the sublime music of Miles Davis but this film leaves us wanting to see a more honest account of the complicated musician. Instead, we have something more like a rambling story Davis might have told when he was stoned.