Thursday, April 21, 2016

Don Cheadle's MILES AHEAD gives us some fun, along with a fantasia on Mr. Davis' life

From the opening credits of MILES AHEAD, the new movie co-written (with Stephen Baigelman), directed and starring Don Cheadle, we learn that Miles Davis Properties LLC , a company controlled by some of the late Miles Davis' family members, was involved (TrustMovies suspects rather heavily) in the overseeing of this film. One cannot blame family for doing its utmost to burnish a legend's image -- the man and his music -- but I wonder if it can be trusted to offer up anything approaching "reality" about the subject at hand?

Not that Mr. Cheadle's movie (the actor/filmmaker is shown above and elsewhere below) doesn't give us the kind of warts-and-all biopic audiences have come to expect these days, but at the end of it all, we do have that kind of queasy feeling that we ought to understand that Davis' music excuses just about anything and everything.

So, yes, this is indeed yet another movie about a music personality who is egotistical, brilliant, drunk and drugged-out and very self- and other-destructive. The difference is that it stars Mr. Cheadle, who is always a joy to watch, and it is -- from what I can gather -- almost totally invented in terms of the plot line, which involves a supposed reporter (played by Ewan McGregor, below), who, in attempting to to get an interview with Davis, himself becomes involved in trying to get back a stolen tape recording of the musician's latest work.

This is fun and games, I suppose, and acted quite well by all concerned, but what's the point? Unless it is designed to somehow show us the "real" Davis by giving us invented narrative over the usual bio-pic documentary fodder. Well, it's an odd choice, but it's one that does provide the opportunity for a little wit and surprise, along with all else.

There's gunplay and beatings and a car chase and a bunch of shady characters, as the movie circles in and around on itself. becoming a kind of fantasia that culminates in a whoop-dee-do prize fight that descends into music and melodrama and murder. In another unusual scene, the dialog during a argument/fight between Miles and his wife (played with feisty beauty by Emayatzy Corinealdi, above and below) is literally overcome, as is so much else here, by the music itself.

In its period detail, the movie gets the "look" down pat -- from the hairdos and cars to the clothes and home decor -- and the supporting cast (which includes the wonderful Michael Stuhlbarg in another fine role) is certainly on target. And the movie does have a genuinely interesting construction: flashing from present to past, with the music always at the periphery and occasionally front and center, and circling back on itself as it bounces back and forth from here to there and now to then. But for all that bouncing, what comes up is too often the usual stuff of cliched musical biopic: a life of drugs, dames and bad behavior.

At both the beginning and end of the film we do get a kind of "interview" with Davis, as performed by Cheadle, in which he tells us that his music is not "jazz" but something he prefers to be called "social music" (as if all music ever composed -- from opera to the Twist -- wasn't in some sense social music). Clearly, Davis was some kind of control freak, a quality that Cheadle captures with spirit and intensity .

From Sony Pictures Classics and running 100 minutes, the film, while playing New York and Los Angeles, opens all across the country tomorrow, Friday, April 22. Here in South Florida, it plays everywhere from Aventura to Boca Raton, Hollywood to Miami, Coconut Creek to Pompano Beach. Click here to see all playdates, cities and theaters.

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