In a world currently demanding cinematic precision and grim reflection to the point of squeezing the life out of a vibrant subject, acclaimed actor Don Cheadle makes his writing and directorial debut by taking a hard left into observation and poetic inspiration – and succeeds beautifully.
In a passion project years in the making, Cheadle paints a portrait of jazz legend Miles Davis that is as simultaneously improvisational and deeply crafted as the man’s music itself. Rather than present a chronological rollout as so many [very effective] biopics do, Cheadle instead distills the essence of Davis’ demeanor and personality at two distinct points in life, and then uses the facts of those eras to riff into largely fictional circumstances that allow that personality to shine through. In so doing, Cheadle brings us not the story of the person, but the person himself – and then lets the person express the story (which is exactly what did not happen with the recent “I Saw the Light”, and why it stumbled).
It is exceedingly difficult to bring an audience into the very mind of its subject, yet this is precisely what Cheadle has accomplished here – and it’s worth noting that this dynamic, while certainly sensed in the moment, doesn’t take full effect until after the viewing. My initial impression as a film was high 3 stars, which rose steadily to 5 over the following week or so as the film fell away and the presence of Cheadle’s Davis remained, the way the songs recede but the concert memory deepens.
That I mention Cheadle’s superb performance is mere formality, as it’s impossible to ignore even from the stills. It’s a striking portrayal, one of the best to come along and certainly his best work to date – at times, it’s easy to forget we’re not actually looking at Cheadle himself. And those alerts I often provide to be sure to stick around through the credits? “Miles Ahead” doesn’t need one – you won’t be inclined to leave, and jazz fans in particular are in for a real treat.
Story: Dramatic portrait of jazz legend Miles Davis during the course of a day in later life, amid flashbacks to early days and the volatile romance with the love of his life.
Genre: Drama, Character Study, Biography
Themes: Competence, Creativity, Legacy, Person vs. Self, Time
Starring: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michael Stuhlbarg
Directed by: Don Cheadle (also co-wrote and co-produced)
Running time: 100 minutes
Houston release date: April 22, 2016
Tickets: Check IMDb.com or your local listings
Screened March 1, 2016 at the Edwards Grand Palace theater in Houston TX