Miles Ahead [Blu-ray]
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Don Cheadle directs and stars as Miles Davis in this biopic about the influential jazz musician. The film begins in the late 1970s during a dark and troubled time of Davis's life in which, after giving up performing, he mostly lived as a recluse in his Upper West Side apartment in New York. When insistent reporter Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor) from Rolling Stone magazine knocks on his door seeking an interview, Davis grants him his request and takes him on a mission to recover a new session tape from his label bosses at Columbia Records. During their quest, Davis reminisces over significant events from his life including his relationship with his first wife Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi) and the higher points of his musical career.
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1. This is not a movie about Miles Davis. This is a fictional story and while his representation may have been based on anecdotes and observation, there is very little to give you insight into the man, his life or his music. Flashbacks to his marriage to Frances characterise the relationship as two dimensional obsession and rife with domestic violence, interspersed with a mournful Cheadle wearing a deep and meaningless expression. These scenes look like outtakes from a Kanye West video. As a result, his Davis is tough to understand, let alone to sympathise with.
2. This is not about his music. Again, some flashbacks feature fragments of his recorded music, but that's all. There's certainly no insight into his relationship with it. The closest we get is his throwaway line ("social music") and a hackneyed reworking of the script to Paul McCartney's schtick movie "Give My Regards To Broad Street" (which also has a thin plot about a lost master tape), but without the music or humour. Whereas other movies (notably "'Round Midnight") focus on the music and even go to the extent of having great musicians playing live, we only get the briefest of clips from any music and only passing commentary on it. The only exception is a rather cringeworthy credits playout scene which has Cheadle miming on trumpet alongside an ageing Wayne Shorter. Really???
3. This does seem to be about Don Cheadle. If this is a "labour of love", then it is probably Cheadle's self-love. This seems to fixate on Miles' "retirement" period, his failed marriage and his dysfunction ahead of his reemergence in the late '70s and shows no empathy for Davis. The closest I can guess the motivation of this movie to be is as a vehicle for Cheadle as a serious actor/director (he fails) and a way of making Miles "hip" again to a new generation, by allusions to his most depraved self-destructive period and "gangster" lifestyle. This is entirely unnecessary: Miles' music speaks for itself, as witnessed by continuing sales. Perhaps this is more about making Don hip?
In all, this is a pointless movie and will be a disappointment to anybody interested in the music of, or motivations behind Miles. When compared to masterpieces such as Tavernier's "'Round Midnight", it withers. By contrast, "Midnight", based loosely on the life of Bud Powell, focuses on the musician, his life and how it is intertwined with, and simultaneously fulfilled and doomed by his relationship with music, It shows this through the eyes of a man who not only loves the music, but ends up saving the man, exploring in its arc racial intolerance juxtaposed with the love such music evokes in people. It also features genuinely brilliant live renditions of some standards by a stellar band.
Instead with "Miles Ahead" we have a movie which is a pale stereotype of the African American jazz musician that works off cliches and the mythology of Davis's retirement years.
Terrible. And a travesty. I wish I could score it zero.
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