As with many fans of music in general, I consider Miles Davis a musical genius. Growing up in the shadow of my father’s jazzy stylings, Miles haunted and soothed a great many rides to my father’s house. Like a spear that assaults tension, that muted trumpet could take a single note and calm any stress I felt. To this day, that effect remains and lives on in all of Miles Davis’ catalogue. It is in his artistry that the foundations of my love for jazz is set upon.
As I sat to watch Don Cheadle’s amazing transformation (and yes…Cheadle plays the trumpet throughout the film), I heard and missed a key quote that basically defines this entire movie:
“If you’re going to tell a story, come with some attitude, man.” – Don Cheadle as Miles Davis
Just like the unsteady inventiveness that embodies great jazz, that is where this film lies. Rather than fleshing out a biopic that chronicles Miles from birth to death, Cheadle takes us on a jumbled trip that may not even be entirely true. Set in a period in Miles’ life when he didn’t play much anymore, the core of the story finds Miles and a ‘journalist’ named Dave Brill (also well played by Ewan McGregor) on a mission to recover a stolen session tape that the label wanted to put out as a comeback album. As this romp plays out (complete with car chase, drugs, and a shootout), Miles daydreams about his relationship with ex-wife Frances Taylor (played by the beautiful Emayatzy Corinealdi).
Somewhere in all of the jumping back and forth between fiction-y romp and factual ‘past’ is a seemingly real transformation of Cheadle into Miles Davis. Now I’ve yet to read bios about the man himself but I have managed to follow the careers of many of his collaborators who often spoke of him from Marcus Miller to Herbie Hancock to Prince, they all spoke of how difficult and sensitive of a man he was as well as his unparalleled desire to innovate his ‘sound’. From his profane jabs at EVERYONE around him to his ‘zoned out’ creative moments in session, Cheadle nails the visage of being a musical legend.
As I watched this jumbled story with my wife, we both had a hard time admitting that we loved the film. While there were moments that the music queued and we watched Cheadle recreate a classic, it didn’t seem to ‘feature’ the music. Alternatively, I knew that Robert Glasper had ‘reimagined’ some of Miles’ sessions for the movie’s soundtrack and even those pieces were hard to remember (until the end of the film of course if they were played at all). Great music biopics typically give you that magic moment of creation or performance as a high point in the film yet that did not come to be here. They typically give a new generation a new appreciation for the music if not the man and I feel as if that mark was even missed a bit here. No new revelation about his life was explored or unveiled and instead, a ‘vybe’ was the true core of this presentation.
“Don’t call it jazz man, that’s some made up word. This is social music.” – Don Cheadle as Miles Davis
In the end, Miles Ahead manages to delve into the persona of Miles Davis in a way that few probably ever will. Artistically sound, this film embodies the word ‘interpretation’. While ‘adoration’ may not be the end result of watching the film, it is certainly a good one that should be experienced.