Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor Train Spotting, Rogue Trader) who comes to interview Davis on the verge of a comeback after three years of self–imposed isolation. Directed, co-written and starring Don Cheadle (Ocean's Twelve, Captain America: Civil War) as the jazz legend himself.
Miles Davis clearly must have been a huge influence and source of inspiration to Cheadle, as the film was partly funded by himself as well as crowd funded. The concept to move away from a straight forward biographical film came from Cheadle, who wanted to present a study and the edgier side of Miles Davis, this notion had the approval of the Davis’ family.
Miles Ahead begins with Cheadle as Davis, being interviewed for television where he refuses to call his music Jazz, but social music. Then filming stops and Davis returns to plush living accommodation in New York, yet as we enter into his front room the curtains are drawn and the room untidy. The only sign of anything positive is the portable recording equipment and Davis’ trumpet. As Davis is calling Colombia Records chasing a royalty cheque, his unhealthy solace is broken from a knock on the door by the fresh faced, naive and enthusiastic journalist Braden on which Davis greets him with a punch straight to the face, which raises a smile and indicates Davis’ hatred of the media.
The key plot is that someone, without Davis’ permission, arranges a party in his apartment attended by the heartless and cut throat Colombia Records boss Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg, Seven Psychopaths Boardwalk Empire) along with his henchman Walter (Brian Wolfman Black Bowman, St. Gabriel, The Game Done Changed ) and new jazz prodigy Junior (Keith Stanfield, Straight Outta Compton. Short Term 12) who steal a demo tape of Davis’ recent recordings, with the intention to release it and defraud the artist. Prior to this, after a few years of being drug free, Davis had descended back into cocaine. Coming downstairs to find this tape missing, blaming Braden for the theft, who admits carelessness as Braden saw the tape but forgot to lock the drawer. Furious, agitated and high Davis persuades Braden to join him in get his work back. A friendship is quickly formed.
So the escapades begin, however Miles Ahead doesn’t descend into a gun toting and car chasing film across the Big Apple. Cheadle shows innovative skills as a new director, Miles Ahead being his first feature, by using Polaroid Instant Photos, which were a phenomena in the 70s , along with walls of lifts pulling away as the viewer steps into Davis’ past. We gain an insight into his rise to the legend he became. This approach works, and acts as a breather and helps to develop the story, before Miles Ahead returns to an action thriller.
Throughout the film, Miles is reflective, especially about his true love, first wife and muse, singer Frances Taylor, whom he immortalises putting her beautiful face on the cover of his album Someday My Prince Will Come, and lost her due to domestic violence. Cheadle is careful to create his poignant and moving scenes, without making them too sentimental, just insightful.
Miles Ahead is an enjoyable and intelligent film, which captures the feel of the late 70’s, in fact it has elements of the original Shaft, which I am sure was an influence on Cheadle.
It’s not a feel good film, yet in the same breath it is far from doom and gloom, it’s a mixture of action , reflection, friendship and love which in turn gives us, the viewer, a better understanding into Miles Davis, his life, how he worked, his passion for music, as it was his life, his world, his soul , which helped him to connect to the world…..social music.
I am sure there are die-hard fans of Davis who wanted a straight forward biog, yet I am also sure there are die-hard fans who enjoyed this unique approach to the telling of his life. Miles Davis, to me, was a pioneering genius but not troubled, just fought for what he wanted, and in doing so made many mistakes…… But there again don’t we all?
Miles Ahead out now on DVD