Don Cheadle and Ewan McGregor take center stage as Miles Davis and faux "Rolling Stone" reporter, Dave Braden, in this hugely entertaining glimpse into the life of one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. But do not call his compositions "jazz" --- Davis thought of his life's work as "social music".
In the late 70's, Davis takes a break from composing and performing for about five years. Virtually a hermit, Davis rambles around his big house playing his recordings, surviving on medication and other drugs to mask the pain he endures from a bad hip. Braden shows up at his door trying to score a story good enough to get him published in "Rolling Stone Magazine", and gets much more than he bargained for.
Written by Steven Baigelman and Cheadle, who makes his directorial debut, "Miles Ahead" is a wild ride. I have always loved Davis' music, but knew nothing of his life. He was married several times, but Cheadle and Baigelman choose to focus, told via flashback, on his relationship and subsequent marriage to Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi).
It is an affair wrought with strife and great love. When Davis meets Frances she is already a successful dancer, but once they marry he demands that she give up her career to focus on him. After surgery on his hip and the beginning of his addiction to drugs, Davis' behavior becomes intolerable and Frances flees for her life.
Cheadle is mesmerizing as Davis. His performance is sublime and imbued with much humor and pathos. Davis was one crazy dude, and Cheadle's portrayal is right in step with Davis' paranoia and almost psychotic personality. His scenes with McGregor are vastly entertaining, and they complement one another perfectly. The car chases, complete with guns blazing, are terrifically exciting --- and also hilarious.
But I especially love Davis re-dressing Braden when they decide to go to a club. He opens his walk-in closet door to reveal neatly organized racks of 70's disco clothes. And Braden, who looks like a hippie "Rolling Stone" reporter is magically transformed, silk shirt et al.
Corinealdi and Cheadle are equally well-matched. Miles and Frances share an immediate attraction which these two actors electrify on screen. She is stunning --- a real beauty --- and the sexuality she possesses is not lost on Cheadle nor the audience. Davis' music was also greatly influenced by his relationship with Frances.
Cheadle and Baigelman allowed their screenplay to dictate which recording of Davis' they would utilize as that part of the soundtrack. It is a given that the score is off the charts, but "Miles Ahead" also includes some original compositions by Robert Glasper. And the concert sequence at the end of the film is truly dynamic --- something Cheadle thinks Miles himself would have put together --- featuring Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and a few jazz musicians newer to the business, Esperanza Spaulding and Gary Clark Jr.
Opinion: See It Now!
The 10-year odyssey that actor Don Cheadle endured to get "Miles Ahead" made, and finally released into theatres, has resulted in an engaging insight into the life of Miles Davis. As the enigmatic, supremely talented, world-class trumpet player, Cheadle turns in his finest performance since his Oscar-nominated role in "Hotel Rwanda" (2004).
He also produced, co-wrote and makes his directing debut in "Miles Ahead", while learning to play the trumpet over a four-year span, a grueling experience for a role he characterizes as "torturous". On a couple of occasions Cheadle had to be "coerced" from his hotel room to go on set and continue shooting. His co-writer is Steven Baigelman who penned "Get on Up" (2014), the excellent James Brown biopic starring Chadwick Boseman.
Much like the filmmakers of the current Hank Williams film "I Saw the Light", Cheadle focuses on a specific period in Davis' life in the late1970's. We first meet him as a chain-smoking, drug-abusing artist in the throes of a fading career. He's mad at the world, and has essentially disappeared from public view.
When a "reporter" named Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) shows up at Davis' door pretending to be from "Rolling Stone", Davis greets him with a sucker punch to the face. But Braden will not be denied his story, and this episode sets up a friendship that leads to a series of wild events.
Davis woos and marries a beautiful dancer, Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi). Predictably, they have a tumultuous relationship that doesn't end well. The great character actor Michael Stuhlbarg plays the smarmy, unscrupulous music producer Harper Hamilton who steals one of Davis' recording tapes.
"Miles Ahead" cleverly interweaves Miles Davis in his early, successful years with the troubled Miles Davis who depends on cocaine and other drugs to get him through his pain-filled days due to a deteriorating hip. Cheadle's performance is startling, and his strong on-screen chemistry with McGregor is evident. The duo brings to light in dramatic fashion everything we never knew about Miles Davis, who died in 1991 at the age of sixty-five.
The film features many memorable scenes, such as Miles the composer working with one of his favorite pianists to fine tune a number, and Miles as a pistol-toting crazy man seeking compensation for his music. Cheadle brings a controlled mania to the role --- always emulating Davis' raspy voice --- and McGregor is his "voice" of reason.
I wasn't particularly interested in seeing the screening of "Miles Ahead", even though I own a couple of Davis' CD's buried somewhere in my seldom-played collection. But after watching this movie, I will be re-locating his music to my regularly-played selections.
Opinion: See It Now!