Don Cheadle doesn’t make bad films. He has become one of the most dependable stars in Hollywood, in that if he’s in a movie, it’s worth the admission price.
So when he directs himself in a project he has also written, you don’t really need to read a review or wait for the groundswell of public opinion – right?
In Miles Ahead, Cheadle has taken a real gamble by tackling the genius of jazz great Miles Davis and trying to put it on film. But, while other biopics like the new Hank Williams film I Saw The Light simply grace the surface of a music icon’s life, Cheadle’s new movie really goes deep and is a masterpiece of ‘jazz filmmaking’.
Miles Ahead doesn’t lazily chronicle Davis’ life; it offers a snapshot of the eccentric trumpeter as an oddball recluse battling to protect new recordings and pining for his muse, first wife Frances, portrayed by the exotic and enchanting Emayatzy Corinealdi.
Throw the always entertaining Ewan McGregor into the mix as an opportunist Rolling Stone reporter and Michael Stuhlbarg as a greasy svengali and you have the ingredients for a really great little film that works as much as a reminder of the greatness of Miles Davis, an introduction to the man, and a splendid biopic up there with some of the best.
Cheadle’s genius as a writer/director is he manages to put jazz on the screen – the film bounces back and forth like one of Miles Davis’ classic tunes, but just like the musician he portrays, the filmmaker manages to get everything back on track before it becomes a head-scratching mess. Under the guidance of a lesser movie man, Miles Ahead would quickly fail as a coherent movie.
Then there’s the music. Cheadle studied Miles for years before taking charge of the trumpet his pal Wynton Marsalis gave him and actually learned to play. So when you see the actor performing in the film, that’s really him playing along to Davis’ music. And he clearly impressed the jazz gods as Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, who served as the music legend’s most beloved collaborators, agreed to perform with Don, as their late bandleader, in concert footage that features at the end of the movie.
Miles Ahead doesn’t pull any punches – it could so easily have become a love story to a jazz great, but Cheadle tackles the musician’s drug use, his famous violent mood swings, his womanising ways, and the madness which hung over him like a cloud.
This is a powerhouse of a movie that should serve all filmmakers with a dream of putting an icon’s life story on the big screen. What Don Cheadle has done is turned his subject’s music into a visual delight with a cast of players who appear to be able to follow their leader’s flights of fancy while sticking to a storyline and a plot that carries this lovely little film from beginning to end.
And it will make you dig out your Miles Davis albums for a reminder of just how brilliant the jazz master was.
© Cover Media