The ability to tell an iconic musician's life story through their music isnt new, but it's steadily becoming one of Hollywood's most popular blockbuster genres. Madonna, the Bee Gees, Leonard Bernstein, George Clinton, Bob Marley, and Weird Al Yankovic are some of the most anticipated films in the next few years.
Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle's feature film directorial debut, was a few years away from catching on to this trend. The film follows Miles Davis as he embarks on a series of mishaps with the music reporter Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor). The film is not well-known in the United States, although it received some positive reviews from the New York Film Festival.
It's not difficult to see why Miles Ahead did not blossom into a Bohemian Rhapsody-style overnight sensation. Those who wanted to see Miles Ahead in person may have left the theater confused, or disappointed. Instead, Cheadle presents a humorous, individual narrative about Davis having to face the consequences of his own legacy.
The way the story unfolds is free-form. This couldn't have been a better method of addressing the nature of jazz, as Davis' daily routine was often as unpredictable as his musicianship. At an unspecified date at the end of the 1970s, Davis has already established himself as a performer. Jazz is an art form that is all about what's new and exciting. At this point in his life, Davis isn't either.
Cheadle's involvement in a musician biopic, especially one that focuses on a person who was under so much public scrutiny, risks transforming the central performance into an impression. This is everything Braden is attempting to accomplish. Don't refer to my music as "jazz." It's social music.
Davis isnt interested in explaining the differences between jazz and social music to a half-witted reporter like Braden, especially when he discovers that Braden's claims to be working for Rolling Stone are filled with half-truths. However, Braden becomes Davis' unwitting partner as they search for a series of stolen tapes that contain Davis' recent recordings and collaborations. It's partly about artistic integrity and partly about ego.
As he learns more about Davis's failed marriage, Braden locks Davis out of his own house. He is an appropriate audience avatar.
Cheadle recalls the clips contained on the tape to give us a glimpse into Davis' life when he recorded them. These scenes, isolated from the rest of the story, might have constituted a more traditional biopic. Taylor falls in love with Davis, becomes his muse, and eventually becomes disorientated from him as he enters addiction and self-obsession.
Cheadle's fluid approach to the chronology is in line with Davis' personal displeasure over his greatest hits. He picks and selects moments from Davis' most famous songs, including Kind of Blue (1959), Someday My Prince Will Come (1961), Agharta (1975), and We Want Miles (1981), but they aren't presented in chronological order. Ironically, the actual recording sessions aren't nearly as entertaining as the fictitious plot points that Cheadle adds about Braden
The beginning of a great jazz performance (or social music, as Davis would define it) isnt as important as the last impression. The dialog with Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg with a great mustache) is among the most powerful scenes; Davis recognizes that young people are the future, and he is aware of all the difficulties that Junior will confront throughout his career.
Miles Ahead is an ideal way to tell the Davis story because it appeals to both novice and hardcore listeners. Those who know Davis music already might enjoy a different perspective on his motivations, and why he was so cautious to discuss his legacy. Compared to the current overabundance of music films, Miles Ahead is a breath of fresh air.