Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
RPL Film Theatre
It was an abject failure at the box office but give the underappreciated parody Walk Hard credit — it sure made it tough for filmmakers to get away with traditional musician biopics a la Ray or Walk the Line. Once exposed, the formula — birth, trauma, discovery, fame, drugs, redemption, untimely death — self-destructed.
It’s no surprise then that all three music biopics that opened this spring — Born to Be Blue about Chet Baker, I Saw the Light about Hank Williams and Miles Ahead, about Miles Davis — find new ways to tell their stories.
The most radical of all is Miles Ahead, which makes shit up to paint a larger canvas in a shorter period of time.
Set in 1979 towards the end of the jazzman’s five-year “retirement”, Miles Ahead depicts a musician on the verge. Thanks to a steady diet of cocaine and bourbon, Davis (Don Cheadle) is not even in control of what happens in his own home. His insouciant behaviour is bankrolled by his record company, which hopes to get their hands on a tape containing, perhaps, Miles’ final session.
The arrival of an eager Rolling Stone journalist (Ewan McGregor) forces Davis to leave his place and face how his influence has shaped (or broken) other people’s lives. Miles’ long journey into the night is peppered with flashbacks — mainly about his relationship with his first wife, who he drove away with his out-of-control possessiveness.
Starring, written, produced and directed by Cheadle, Miles Ahead is the definition of the passion project. Because of his obvious sympathies for the subject, Cheadle treats the figure of Davis too gently (you don’t have to look hard to find horror stories about the musician). He also speculates the end of his first marriage broke him in more ways than one, and crippling insecurities stunted his career.
Of all the hats Don Cheadle dons in Miles Ahead, he only comes up short as an actor. His Miles Davis borders on caricature. At least the film keeps the story rolling and remains entertaining thorough.