REVIEW – ‘Miles Ahead’ lags a little behind, but might still be a film worth seeing

Don Cheadle’s performance as Miles Davis? Fantastic. The rest of the film – not so much.

Miles Ahead is a look into the life of Jazz Musician (or ‘soul music creator,’ as he’d prefer to hear) Miles Davis. This is a first-time effort as a director via Cheadle, who has credits in movies like Mean Girls and the Iron Man/Captain America series. Quite the resume, but sometimes breadth can be an ally for an actor wearing multiple hats.

There are multiple stories happening here, but this takes you through the fall and rise of Davis’s career, which goes from about the 50’s to the 70’s. Cheadle’s version of Davis is mostly down-and-out on his luck, after he endures a series of personal problems. The double-edged sword in his life: his relationship with dancer Francis Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi). His interactions with her are just one of the things he reflects on as he deals with a stubborn Rolling Stone reporter, Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor), who wants to get his hands on Davis’s comeback story.

The first thing I noticed about this film is that it has the backing of the Davis family. Miles Davis Properties, LLC, appears in the first few frames of the film. What’s more, according to Rolling Stone, Davis’s nephew had said in 2006 that the only person who could play Miles was Cheadle himself. 

And it’s true. Once you’ve seen Cheadle in the role, there’s just no one else you can picture in it. From mannerisms, to playing the trumpet, right down to his drug exploits, Cheadle hits the nail on the head each time.

Where this film has issues is in the rest of its execution. I don’t feel Cheadle struck the kind of balance you need when you’re taking on multiple roles in the film. The way the story played out: two timelines parallel to one another, eventually intersecting about three-fifths into the movie – was very raw – and not in a good way. By the time the two points intersect, you’re waiting for this big, pivotal story explosion you thought was going to happen. It doesn’t happen. The humour is there, the acting is there, but the road map for the entire field trip is seriously lacking.

The other actors are standard in their roles. I felt like I was watching Ewan McGregor with a lot of hair, and Emayatzy Corinealdi’s Francis Taylor didn’t really stack up against Cheadle’s strong performance of Davis. I think part of the blame lies with what appears to be, once again, WAY too much of a focus on the main character, and then only a sliver of care with the rest of the cast.

If anything, this film is an okay introduction into the life and times of the Jazz Social Music magician. If you like musical history, Jazz, biographical films, and – of course, Miles Davis – then it’s worth sparing a few hours. Everyone else: watch it when it comes out at home, or see it on a cheapie Tuesday.

I don’t see this being a massive success in the theatres. It’s in limited release, for starters, and, in comparison to the other films that are out this weekend – like The Jungle Book, it will probably pale in comparison to other features.

So, to sum it up: Cheadle’s acting chops are exceptional, but the rest of the film falls flat. I’m giving this three jazz records out of five.

In Metro Vancouver, you can catch this film at Fifth Avenue Cinemas on Burrard.

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