The path of the actor turned director is paved with uninspired and derivative movies. Sure, the likes of Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Ben Affleck and Woody Allen make it look easy. But stepping behind the camera isn’t for everyone, even if you’ve stood in front of it for your entire career.
With Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle is the latest thespian to try it out for size, and within the opening stages of the docu-drama, the actor has done all he can to try and make you notice his nifty work. Then, Miles Ahead’s non-linear structure kicks in, and we’re transported to the not-too-distant past. Moments later, we’re careened a bit further back, all of which suggests that the film could zigzag its way into tedium if it carries on at such ferocity.
Fortunately for viewers, Miles Ahead soon simmers down, giving us time to get to grips with Don Cheadle’s indignant and convincing display as the jazz genius. Ewan McGregor also is on fine form in his supporting role as a music journalist who is just trying to get an interview, but soon finds himself embroiled in Davis’ chaotic and violent life.
The plot is outrageous and overblown, and you find yourself thinking that what you’re watching couldn’t have possibly happened. And you’d be right to think that, too, because Don Cheadle has made no qualms about the film taking a great big dose of artistic license. Because of the film’s overt fabrications, Cheadle’s performance as Miles Davis, while admittedly impressive, doesn’t quite reach the peak portrayals that the genre has produced, as the film doesn’t linger around enough to give us a genuine insight into the triumphant trumpeter. It also means that Miles Ahead’s greatest strength as a movie is its biggest detriment as a biopic, which leaves it in a cinematic purgatory that it can’t quite claw its way out of.
Sure, the main narrative is a thoroughly entertaining rollercoaster adventure that sees Davis and McGregor’s Dave Brill going above and beyond to keep their hands on the musician’s latest record, which Michael Stuhlberg’s Dirk Dastardly-esque villain is intent on getting his mitts on. But this adventure is constantly interrupted by a mundane and hackneyed romantic tangent that focuses on Miles Davis’ first marriage to Emayatzy Corinealdi’s Frances Taylor, which fails to resonate or enthrall. We’re also given brief bursts of other bits of the musician’s past that randomly pop up when Davis spots something that triggers them. It’s all a bit haphazard and chaotic.
That being said though, the main thrust of the film is packed with suspense, action, and pizzazz. But watching Miles Davis act like a deranged gangster doesn’t really give us any indication for how he became one of the most iconic musicians in history, and the impact that it had on him.
All of this being said, the movie still works. In fact, Cheadle’s direction excels in Miles Ahead’s most intense moments, and the final sequence mixes art, music, and a gun fight in a scintillating fashion. Yes, I said a gun fight.
With Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle insisted that he wanted to evoke the spirit of Davis’ music rather than copying the approach of the standard biopic. And while his wild and rapid direction may do just that, it fails to provide us with even a peek at what truly made Miles Davis great or tick. And that feels like a squandered opportunity, no matter how exciting this movie can be in parts. Despite this missed chance, you’ll probably still end up enjoying Miles Ahead, though. Just not for the reasons you originally thought you would.