Opening Friday in New York and Los Angeles, Miles Ahead features Don Cheadle as jazz legend and fearless innovator Miles Davis. Cheadle also directs and co-writes this refreshingly unsparing and compelling look at one of music’s most complicated artists, with Ewan McGregor and Emayatzy Corinealdi offering solid supporting work as music journalist Dave Braden and Davis’ loving wife Frances Taylor.
Instead of making a cradle to grave biopic on Davis, Cheadle and Steven Baigelman focused on a two day period in 1979, as Davis teams up with Braden (McGregor) to find a master tape that was stolen from his New York domicile. The movie seamlessly cuts back and forth from their respective mission to Davis’ turbulent relationship with Frances (Corinealdi), and both stories give viewers a deeper insight into the musician’s restless soul.
During his scenes with Corinealdi, Cheadle gives Miles Davis fans a sampling of the painstaking precision behind his evocative work on such classic albums as Sketches of Spain (Taylor was essentially Davis’ muse during Sketches and Someday My Prince Will Come). The moments set in 1979 convey a more reclusive and bitter Davis, and whether it’s conversing with Braden, record label execs, or a smarmy agent (Michael Stuhlbarg) – it’s always a battle, and Cheadle infuses these scenes with the energy of the musician’s latest work (the classic On the Corner album comes to mind).
During the Miles Ahead press conference, I asked Cheadle how he was able to fuse two different Miles Davis eras into a streamlined narrative. Here’s a portion of his answer:
For us, the Frances part of the storyline was all about loss, was all about possession, was all about voice, expression. Not just about the creative aspect of “the muse.” Everything that Miles had wrapped up in his expression. So we looked at movies like Toto The Hero, Run Lola Run, All That Jazz – films that moved back and forth between time. (There were) no hard lines between timelines, and it always felt like there was a forward momentum. We never, in the movie, stop the film and kind of do a ripple fade and then come right back to where the character was and then go forward. We wanted all of the cuts and all of the interplay between the timelines to have momentum . . . and create this sort of torpor which Miles spits himself out of in the end.
I also talked about my love for Miles Ahead in this week’s episode of CinemAddicts (the review starts at 30:58):
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