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New Release Review - MILES AHEAD

A journalist attempts to get a story from the enigmatic jazz musician Miles Davis.



Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Don Cheadle

Starring: Don Cheadle, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Ewan McGregor, Michael Stuhlbarg



If you walked into the cinema unknowingly, you could be forgiven for believing you had stumbled into a screening of an episode of Starsky & Hutch. An amateurish energy keeps the film moving at a rapid pace, even if it does get bogged down at times in the underdeveloped Frances Taylor subplot.




2016 is set to bring us biopics of some of the greatest musical figures of the 20th century. We'll see Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams (I Saw the Light), Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker (Born to Be Blue), Zoe Saldana as, controversially, Nina Simone (Nina), and first of all, Don Cheadle as Miles Davis in Miles Ahead, which the actor also directed and co-wrote.

If the western movie and jazz music are America's two great artforms, Davis is the latter's Sam Peckinpah, a maverick who constantly adapted his art, alienating himself further from the mainstream as his career progressed. And like Peckinpah, Davis wasn't someone to bring home to meet your mother, as a history of drug addiction and spousal abuse blighted his tempestuous personal life.



With Cheadle's film partly produced by Miles Davis Properties, LLC, it's no surprise to see the trumpeter's violence towards women white-washed here. Davis was married three times, and through flashbacks we see snippets of his relationship with his first spouse, dancer Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi, whom you may have seen in the excellent thriller The Invitation). Davis is never shown purposely striking Frances, and when she falls through a glass table, it's portrayed as the result of clumsiness on the part of an embittered and high as a kite Davis. Apart from toning down the abusive aspect of their relationship, these flashbacks are pointless and ultimately lead nowhere. A moment in which Davis flicks through a coke dealer's record collection and sees Frances' face adorning the cover of his (ironically titled in hindsight) Someday My Prince Will Come album tells us more about their relationship through Cheadle's reaction than any of the generic biopic-by-numbers flashbacks.



The meat of the film is set in 1979 and tells a completely fictional story, one which adds to the growing sub-genre of movies in which a relative nobody gets to spend time with a troubled celebrity; see also My Week With Marilyn (Marilyn Monroe), Life (James Dean), Set Fire to the Stars (Dylan Thomas) and The End of the Tour (David Foster Wallace).

The relative nobody here is fictional Rolling Stone journalist Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor), a character presumably shoe-horned in as patronising bait for white cinema-goers. Braden doorsteps Davis in search of a story and gets a fist to the face for his troubles, but he persists in his pursuit and ends up hanging out with the now unprolific musician, who is near bankrupt and desperate for a coke fix. Much of this part of the movie resembles a cop-less buddy cop movie, with Davis and Braden getting involved in gunfights and car chases, all scored to 'Electric Miles' era Jazz-Fusion cuts. If you walked into the cinema unknowingly, you could be forgiven for believing you had stumbled into a screening of an episode of Starsky & Hutch.



It's all absolutely ludicrous, and likely to draw the ire of hardcore Davis devotees, but it's admittedly a lot of fun at the same time. In his acting capacity, Cheadle is fantastic and expertly captures the enigmatic quality of one of American culture's most important figures. As a director, his work betrays a lack of experience, and some of the match cuts that transport us between eras are embarrassingly clumsy. What Cheadle does bring however is an amateurish energy that keeps the film moving at a rapid pace, even if it does get bogged down at times in the underdeveloped Frances Taylor subplot.
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