Miles Ahead: A Don Cheadle Passion Project – My Thoughts

Walking into Friday night’s screening of Miles Ahead, the only thing I knew about legendary jazz musician Miles Davis was that I liked his music. Don Cheadle’s directorial debut portrayed Miles as an incredibly complex character and coming out of it, I’d say it was probably the most interesting music biopic I’ve seen…

Now, I’m not going to get caught up in hype…Miles Ahead is far from the best music biopic I’ve seen but the reason I say it is the most interesting is due to its incredibly unconventional style. Sitting through this one, I really appreciated the unique editing, structure and camerawork and these aspects, aside from Cheadle himself, are the best parts of the film. Miles Ahead though, is not as much a biopic as it is an honest character study of a passionate, dedicated but undeniably damaged man. The love and respect that Don Cheadle has for Miles is clear in both his direction and his performance and the choice to show both the beauty and the ugliness of Miles Davis’ character shows the honesty and therefore the better quality of this film.

If what I’ve said so far has peaked your interest…check out the trailer.

If Cheadle had just gone out there to create a love-piece to Miles Davis then this film wouldn’t be as good as I think it is. The stark reality in some scenes depicting Miles’ ‘down-and-out’ times is fascinating to watch and is thoroughly welcomed. The violence and drug problems he faced within his life are shown with as much honesty and realism as the glory, the musical genius and the immense dedication to his craft are.

Miles Ahead is also a visually appealing film. The cinematography of some scenes (in particular, one at a boxing ring) is gorgeous to look at. You notice the seamless flow of the camera moving about the scene and mix that with equally seamless editing, Miles’ signature trumpeting playing in the background and the climactic events of that scene and you have truly wonderful filmmaking. Huge credit has to go to Cheadle for pulling off a good few scenes of such beauty and emotion in his feature film directorial debut.

I mentioned the uniqueness of the structure before and realised I hadn’t talked about it yet. The film is unique and unorthodox in the way that it is set at two different points in Miles’ life…quite strange for the biopic genre where you expect the inspirational ‘achieves against all odds’ story that many biopics fall under the trap of and sadly, come off weaker for it. This is what makes Miles Ahead really interesting for me is this structure and somewhat lack of a story. The plot of the film is Miles Davis and Rolling Stone journalist, Dave Brill (played as well as you’d expect from always great Ewan McGregor) chasing a stolen tape of Miles’ new music for his so-called ‘comeback’. That’s it. The film is 1 hour 40mins long and it’s story is chasing a stolen music tape. But it’s what happens around that that’s the reason this film was made and was a success for me.

The cuts between Miles and Dave in 1975 and Miles in his hey-day in 1959 work beautifully to piece together the character of him. His relationship with Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi – try saying that five times fast) is explored well enough for me (someone who didn’t know anything about Miles’ life beforehand) although some die-hard Miles Davis fans may think otherwise. All in all, the filmmaking side of ‘Miles Ahead’ seems to blend very nicely with what’s happening on the screen, the main cast all give very good performances, in particular Cheadle himself who simply becomes Miles Davis (again, showing the dedication he has towards the musician) and for me, it was incredibly interesting to learn about Miles Davis the man.

Is it my favourite music biopic of them all?? No. Do I think it will get nominated for any awards?? With its release being so early, sadly no but Cheadle is outstanding. But, do I think it’s well worth the watch?? Absolutely. If you love a great character study and love a good indie film, this is the one for you. Hopefully, Don Cheadle can have a good directing career after this.

Be sure to let me know your thoughts on Miles Ahead in the comments and check me out and hit me up on Twitter and Instagram!

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