Don Cheadle makes his directorial debut with this largely fictional look at the life and times of jazz pioneer Miles Davis.
When it comes to Miles Davis, there is definitely a biopic to be made; there are several stories to be told about the musician’s life but Don Cheadle’s passion project Miles Ahead is a strange beast; there are elements of the story that are completely fictional but these are interspersed with real events from Davis’ life, leaving the whole film feeling unreal and confused.
Don Cheadle captures Davis’ voice throughout the film, and his performance feels as though it started from a place of imitation, but since the film takes a turn for the fictional, Cheadle easily makes Davis a character all of his own and ably carries the events on his shoulders. Ewan McGregor plays the fictional Rolling Stone journalist Dave Braden, and makes the ruthless character feel rounded with a caring side that comes through as the film goes on. McGregor is never given a chance to make the character feel rounded though, as we are never given enough information about him to relate to him. Emayatzy Corinealdi plays the decidedly unfictional Frances Taylor, but gain, never gets the chance to round out the character as she goes from dancer and performer in her own right, to put upon housewife. The rest of the cast features Michael Stuhlbarg, Lakeith Lee Stanfield and Christina Karis.
The screenplay, written by Steven Baigelman and Don Cheadle is where all of the problems with the film lie. Fictionalising the main part of the film, making it into a buddy caper between Cheadle and McGregor not only makes the story feel unreal, but it does not relate to the life of Miles Davis, since the events shown in the film simply could not have happened. There is a certain charm when it comes to the chemistry of the two lead actors, and the rapport that springs up between the characters is fun to watch, and this would have worked well in a completely fictional tale of a musician and a journalist having a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas style caper, but in terms of this story, it simply rings false. Real events depicted in the film – such as Davis being targeted by a police officer, and chasing his wife out of their home with a knife – do not sit well with the rest of the screenplay, leaving it feeling scattershot and disjointed. As well as this, the film is almost entirely inaccessible to non-fans of Davis who might be curious, since we learn little about the musician as he was, with the film focusing instead on the character it creates.
As director, Cheadle seems to have more fun with the fictional elements of the film than the true ones, although the performances from the director and Ewan McGregor are engaging o watch on screen. The pacing of the film is a mess, as an attempt is made to meld fiction with reality, but the two rarely sit well together, with huge chunks of time being spent jumping back and forth through time and truth.
In all, Miles Ahead is not a biopic of Miles Davis; instead the film seems to imagine what could have happened if Davis got caught up in a caper. The cast do well enough but are seriously and almost unforgivably let down by the screenplay, which feels one part truth and one part fiction with a heavy dose of knock off Coen Brothers-esque capers thrown in for no reason at all.