In the late 1970s, jazz superstar Miles Davis (Don Cheadle), during the height of his fame, disappears from public view. Holing up in his home alone, he endures chronic pain due to a deteriorating hip. The medication he takes to control the pain stifles his musical voice and causes hallucinations. Music reporter Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) wants to know what’s going on and he somehow manages to get into Davis’ house. The two men form a friendship and embark on an adventure to get back a tape of Davis’ latest compositions, that was recently stolen.
I am not exactly sure why but there have been a lot of films made about jazz trumpetists all of a sudden. First we got Born to be Blue, a film about Chet Baker (which also featured Davis in a minor role) and now we have Miles Ahead, a film about Davis. I will say that unlike Baker, I knew more about Davis coming in so I had an idea of what I was walking into. What fascinated me about this one was the fact that the star of the film, Don Cheadle, also co-wrote and directed the film, a position I have never seen him in before. I’ll just say right now, he did better than I expected.
This film did not really take the traditional biopic route in traditional sense in that it is not about Davis’ life story. The events of the film were not necessarily what happened but the film felt more about the persona of Davis. We first get to see him near the end of his career, near the end of a five year hiatus from the spotlight. At this point, he is dishevelled, is addicted to drugs, and keeps mostly to himself by secluding himself from the world. The film would also occasionally featured flashbacks, looking back to Davis’ early days. These helped emphasize how he’s changed over time.
These abrupt flashback scenes also chronicled his relationship with a dancer named Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi). In the few scenes between the two, it never really fully explored their relationship and what led to their breakup. It does partially explain how Davis became the person he was but the film never really give it a chance. We also had a glimpse of his creative process came from events in his life and also got to witness some of his performances (whether or not it was actually him playing remains to be seen). These few flashback scenes could have been a film all in its own and would also have worked, perhaps more than the film we actually got.
There wasn’t really much to the present plot either as here he meets a Rolling Stone writer named Dave Braden (McGregor) with whom he forms a bond. The two must come together and embark on an adventure once Davis’ composition tape is stolen. The film’s time period being the 1970s was very evident here from the clothes, the attitudes, the drugs, and the soundtrack. The film felt very authentic and along with the way it was shot spoke to the film’s overall style which just screamed cool and in doing so, made it fun to watch.
Now back to the plot. The plot focused mostly on Davis and Braden trying to get Davis’ tape back. Of course this wasn’t as straightforward as it sounded as they had to face many obstacles along the way. Cheadle and McGregor had great chemistry with made this fun to watch but it could’ve been much more. This all just felt like it distracted from what the film should have been, more of a biopic like that of the flashback scenes as they were more interesting. However neither of these had much of an impact as the film lacked a great amount of depth it how it handled both Davis’ life and the time period. The film also lacked coherence at times which made the plot feel messy.
Despite the plot’s shortcomings, Cheadle’s performance was great here. This was already his film for multiple reasons but his performance just sealed it. He had great screen presence here as you couldn’t take your eyes off of him as he simply towered over everyone else. He simply was an embodiment of Davis from the gravely voice, the belligerence, and the trumpet playing. McGregor was okay here, playing a fictional character created for the film, there’s wasn’t really much to him but had great chemistry with Cheadle.
Overall, the film had promising subject matter but the messy plot and unfocused direction was a little confusing and underwhelming.