ACTOR-turned-director Don Cheadle has gone on record to say that he hates the word “biopic,” almost as much as Miles Davis hated the word “jazz.” That mentality permeates new film Miles Ahead, an enjoyably unconventional look at a few days, in the life of one of the greatest jazz musicians who ever lived.
The jumping off point for the plot is Ewan McGregor’s determined Rolling Stone journalist Dave Brill turning up at the peerless musician’s luxury apartment looking to nab an interview for a special comeback article. This is during a rare period of Davis not producing any new music while still under contract from his increasingly exasperated record label.
After an altercation leaves Brill with a bloodied nose and Davis locked out of his home, the latter is convinced to do the interview. The pair then embark on a days-long mini-adventure involving the studio sending someone to steal a tape of new material that Miles has hidden away and reminiscing about the musician’s troubled marriage to the love of his life Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi).
Working from a script which he co-wrote, Cheadle makes a confident, if uneven, directorial debut that shows off a filmmaking style that’s full of energy, eccentricity and a general strive to tell stories in a way that keeps audiences on their toes.
We’re given an outsider-looking-in view of the musician’s tempestuous life, fitting for the story of a man that could readily be described as a maverick or a cypher that didn’t fit into any one box, not even the genre of music for which he’s so famous. “Don’t call it jazz, man. That’s just some made-up word. It’s social music,” he proclaims, delivered in a scarily convincing central performance by Cheadle, who straddles the line perfectly between imitation and inhabitation.
Cheadle’s directorial reach does ultimately exceed his grasp as he tries to cover so many bases; Miles’ talent and contrasting erratic behaviour, the professional relationship with the label and the press, his personal relationships with his wife and friends and so forth. But admirable ambition and a welcome sense of nonconformity is definitely there, making for a promising start to a career behind the camera.