Love and labour lost, Don Cheadle’s biopic Miles Ahead reveals the great jazz musician Miles Davis at his lowest ebb.
A Kind Of Blueby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
A Miles Davis biopic was no doubt overdue. And for Don Cheadle, relying on crowd-funding to get his film made, it was no easy task. But rather than focusing on how the boy from Illinois took up the trumpet and made it big, Miles Ahead is the bifold story of the grandmaster of jazz refinding his mojo as well as the love and loss of his wife Frances (Emayatzy Corinealdi). Its central plot circles round a session tape, which for journalist Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor) and sneaky producer Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg) with a coked-up trumpet prodigy in tow means some kind of leverage in the music industry. All duck-and-cover macguffins aside, Cheadle fills in the blanks of Davis’ life thus far, arrested by police on the sidewalk outside the jazz club he’s headlining at and the gradual squeeze on the love of his life. And cutting from one strand to the next through edited movements, there’s a visual panache to Miles Ahead, as the trumpeter finds himself in a boxing ring or as his story is told through the parp of his trumpet – suggesting perhaps that a musical note is worth a thousand images. But while Cheadle pleasingly recreates the colour palette of the Fifties, the Seventies-set story is less successful, choosing not to enter too deep into Davis’ cocaine addiction and settling his musician’s block with a simple injection of new blood. None of the characters are particularly likeable, yet somehow the performances by Cheadle and McGregor manage to carry the film along in their furious wake. But ultimately unable to stump up the “attitude” with which to tell Davis’ story, Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead lags disappointingly behind.
Miles Ahead is now showing at the 66th Berlin Film Festival