Sunday, October 11, 2015

“Miles Ahead”– Movie Review



On the closing night of The New York Film Festival, I attended The World Premiere of the new biopic “Miles Ahead”, written, produced, directed by and starring Don Cheadle.


When jazz musician Miles Davis reflects on his life during an interview, can he use that opportunity to figure out how to change his life for the better?


By the late 1970’s, legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis (Cheadle) had been somewhat reclusive, possibly in semi-retirement; he hasn’t recorded very much in the last few years and as a result, hasn’t had much of an income lately.  The executives at his recording label, Columbia Records, have been understandably nervous; on the one hand, they want him to record something they can release on an album, but on the other hand, they don’t want to upset their very temperamental artist.  At this point, it is believed that Davis has recorded some tracks in his home studio, but refuses to hand over the tapes to Columbia.

It is around this time that Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor) reaches out to Davis, who by now refuses to leave his apartment.  Brill is a journalist who claims to be on assignment from Rolling Stone magazine to interview Davis, who is reluctant and paranoid – in part, at least, due to the various drugs (both prescription and illicit) he has been taking of late.  Instead, Davis turns the tables on Brill by manipulating him to try to get the money he believes is owed him by Columbia – and to get the drugs he needs in order to get by from day to day.  Brill also believes that if he can somehow mollify Davis, he can in turn get the interview he so desperately needs.

Brill determines that the best way he can get Davis his money – and get himself the interview – is by taking Davis’ tapes and turning them over to executives at Columbia.  He would, of course, have to do this without Davis’ knowledge because Davis’ game is to hold the tapes hostage until Columbia forks over his money.  But before Brill can execute his plan, an unscrupulous talent agent (Michael Stuhlbarg) also learns of the tapes and schemes to steal them to work out his own deal with Columbia.  When the tapes go missing, can Davis get them back before they get to Columbia? 


As a director, Don Cheadle is a terrific actor.  In his directorial debut, Don Cheadle took what was purportedly his passion project and somehow managed to transform it into a vanity production.  Miles Davis was a first class musician, no class human and he wound up with a cut-rate biographical movie.  For all the self-induced craziness in Davis’ life, maybe this is some kind of posthumous karmic retribution.  When viewing Cheadle’s muddled mess, it looks like the movie itself was on just as much cocaine as Miles himself was supposed to have been doing. 

Looking at biographies about famous people who themselves led less than admirable lives – “Raging Bull” and “Get On Up” are two that immediately come to mind – there is proof that good movies can be made about bad people.  “Miles Ahead” (could a less cheesy title have been picked?) leaves viewers wondering why they are being forced to sit through a disjointed story about a lowlife character.  Presumably, the point is that by the end of the film, Davis is triumphant in the sense that he emerges from his self-exile – but is he deserving of such redemption?  The film certainly doesn’t make it seem so.

Cheadle’s chaotic, incoherent movie does little to suggest that he has of a future as a director; there is not much in the way of evidence that he can lay out a story in an intelligible way.  One positive note is that Cheadle does remain solid as an actor – he performs a perfect imitation of Miles Davis.  Recent years of The New York Film Festival usually ended on a high note.  In 2013, they showed “Her” on their Closing Night and last year, they closed with “Birdman”; in both cases, they were films that left cinephiles walking on air considering the possibilities of what quality filmmaking was all about.  This year, however, the festival ended with a dud; sadly, “Miles Ahead” hits nothing but some very sour, off-key notes.   

Miles Ahead (2015) on IMDb

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