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Miles Ahead (2016)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michael Stuhlbarg

Written By: Steven Baigelman & Don Cheadle (also story), Stephen J Rivele & Christopher WIlkinson (story)

Directed By: Don Cheadle

The Shot

Don Cheadle’s directorial debut turns the notion of a biopic on its ear, preferring to capture the soul of an artist rather than the facts of his life.  That puts him Miles Ahead of the game, and he turns out a winner, whether you’re a Miles Davis fan going in or not.

The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


No; I am not sorry for that joke.

Pairs Well With...


A classic American spirit for a film that catches the spirit of American classical music’s finest.

“So make some more shit up!  You’re Miles Fucking Davis!”

Not just once but several times upon a time, Miles Davis redefined the possibilities of what most of us call “jazz” but which he preferred to call “social music.”  He is, without question, one of the greatest musical artists not just of modern times, but of all time.

If anyone’s story deserves to be approached with “some attitude,” it’s his.

Shortly before Miles Ahead premiered in wide release, I heard a radio interview with first time director Don Cheadle wherein he described his approach to the film, which he also co-wrote and stars in.  He said that in Miles Ahead, he doesn’t play Miles Davis; instead, he plays Miles Davis playing Miles Davis.  That, I think, is the most succinctly beautiful description of this film that anyone could possibly come up with.  It really says everything one needs to know about the movie.

Cheadle, who made Miles Ahead with the support of members of the Davis family, very specifically chose not to make a traditional biopic, and not to play connect-the-dots with all of the highlight reel moments during which Miles Davis turned music on its ear.  Instead, he chose to frame his story around a period during which Davis stopped playing music, and through that, provide a vehicle for the audience to get a glimpse into the soul of an artist trying to understand himself.

And what better way to do that (as further suggested in a different interview with co-star Ewan McGregor) than to have the artist on the screen make up a not-really-true story about himself that he none the less would have liked to have starred in?

Welcome to the crazy ride that is Miles Ahead (once titled Kill the Trumpet Player), the entirety of which is a made-up blaxploitation era style caper starring (Don Cheadle as) Miles Davis as himself, told as a means of answering what he feels is an impertinent question from a (fictional) reporter (McGregor), whom he also decides to cast in said caper.  Some of it’s historically true (the stormy relationship with his wife), and a lot of it’s not (the parts where he shoots record executives), but all of it speaks to the complex soul of the artist coming to terms with himself and his art, and that makes it a truer portrait of the man than any by-the-numbers treatment ever could.

Historically speaking, the main factual takeaway someone can expect from Miles Ahead is that Miles Davis was a very flawed human being who also happened to be an artistic genius; hardly shocking stuff, and easily guessed in advance by anyone with no real knowledge of the man going in.  But the meat here isn’t in the facts; it’s in the way the story is told and in the notes that play while it happens.  It’s an improvisational riff on history; a fusion of facts and fictions that all comes together with unlikely harmony thanks to a rhythm section that just won’t quit.  It’s wacky and intense, sympathetic and damning, drama-laden and hilarious.  It’s a wicked jam session at a party that crashed into a darkly troubled bender and then barreled headlong onto the set of Shaft.

In other words… it’s jazz.

Or, in Mr. Davis’ parlance, it’s social music.

It’s also an experiment, and the experiment plays so well that it’s hard to believe that this is Don Cheadle’s first time in the big chair.  Like his hero Miles Davis did so often for the world of music, with Miles Ahead, Cheadle redefines the possibilities of the biographical motion picture.  For that, and for his spot-on work in front of the camera, he deserves some serious consideration for award hardware in three different categories. 

With that said, I suspect that he’d be happy if your first instinct after watching Miles Ahead was to spend some quality hours listening to the music of Miles Davis.  The character of Miles keeps referring back to “Sketches of Spain” during the film, and that’s not a bad way to go.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, May, 2016

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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