By Keeva Stratton
Miles Ahead offers a loosely fictionalised account of a true jazz legend at the height of his fame and depths of despair. It’s entertaining and elaborate, but will it please true fans?
We begin somewhere around 1980 with a Rolling Stone journalist (Ewan McGregor) interviewing Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) as he embarks on a return to music following a five-year hiatus. Davis is aloof and arrogant as the reporter struggles to find words grandiloquent enough to capture the magnitude of his musical legend.
Miles Davis has been a much celebrated jazz trumpeter, and his iconic Kind of Blue (1959) is still widely feted as the best jazz album of all time. Across his early acoustic jazz albums, to his electric and more experimental 1970s albums, to his pop-tinged 1980s comeback albums—Davis has retained a dedicated and devoted fan base, generating a wave of interest in this film.
Over the next 100 cinematic minutes, we are taken on a wild ride across several decades and key events in the music legend’s life that appear to mix fact with fiction. We witness his early love affairs and orchestral recordings with arranger Gil Evans, and his more drug addled behaviours following his hip operation and subsequent downhill spiral.
We will be introduced to a man who has many faces: villain and victim, hero and genius. While his womanising ways, temper and drug use have been well-documented, here we are also exposed to the terrible racism he faced, the abuse of power by the music industry over some of the most talented musicians of his era (if not still today) and his own ongoing personal battles.
It’s hard to like him and it’s hard to despise him, but the emotional gravitas of Miles Davis’s music is undeniable—which makes it equally difficult to not be intrigued by the searching gaze offered into the man behind it.
Don Cheadle wears many hats in this film—writer, director and the titular character—perhaps too many. The film feels a little over-baked and sadly it’s more about stoking the legend with outrageous storytelling than making the sublime music its central figure.
It is, however, a lot of fun. You can’t deny the humour in this mad-capped presentation; and if fans of Davis are able to separate the man from the film, they may find the hyperbole in itself entertaining.
Somewhere between Almost Famous and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Miles Ahead is an oddity as cinematic musical biography that somehow entertains and engages. If nothing else, the soundtrack is fantastic!
Director: Don Cheadle
Stars: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor
Runtime: 100 mins
Release Date: June 16
Reviewer Rating: 3/5