Movie Review - Miles Ahead

Miles Davis has the same birthday as me. He was born on May 26. He died when I was only 11, but he was 65. He was a Jazz musician and composer. He was mainly a trumpet player, but he is widely considered one of the most influential and innovative artists of the past 100 years. He sold millions of records. He won multiple Grammy Awards. He was very famous. While this movie briefly touches upon Miles making his music, a few flashbacks reveal such, it's not as spectacular or as well-done as the recent Love & Mercy about Brian Wilson. Unfortunately, biopics on musicians, including Get On Up about James Brown, don't do much to make me appreciate their musicians or their works. I was never a fan of Miles Davis nor Jazz, and this film certainly didn't sway me to become one.

Director and co-writer Don Cheadle most likely wasn't trying to make fans. He just wanted to tell an honest story about Miles Davis, or one that was true to his spirit. It's funny to think about this movie in the wake of Prince's death because there are similarities to be mined. Prince in particular was very strict about managing his music and controlling how his music was distributed and accessed. This movie features a plot line involving Miles Davis being very strict about managing and controlling his music.

Asserting African-American or black control over their art, business and lives is very important and Cheadle portraying this is very good, but it's territory that has been explored before. It's the eternal struggle in almost all films about black musicians or artists. Therefore, one has to look at how Cheadle manifests the assertion. Unfortunately, Cheadle makes it a ridiculous spin on the buddy cop dynamic where Miles Davis, played by Don Cheadle, teams up unwillingly with a desperate reporter named Dave Brill, played by Ewan McGregor.

This buddy cop dynamic is supposed to be comedic like a Shane Black script, only not as clever. Miles and Dave run around chasing after a stolen tape, recorded in Miles' apartment and makeshift studio. The two make a series of stops along the way. Each stop is a bit less ludicrous than the last. Yet, it's supposed to end on a poignant note, but that note rings false because there's not much that endears us to Miles or Dave.

The only thing we have is the fact that Miles is a celebrity. He's so famous and so beloved. Yet, the movie does so much to tear down any love that one could have for him. A lot of it comes in Miles' relationship with his wife, Frances Taylor, played by Emayatzy Corinealdi. As has been the stereotype since What's Love Got To Do With It (1993), we again get the image of the abusive and controlling, black man.

The excuse that it actually happened in real life isn't enough. An attempt should be made to explain the abusive or controlling behavior. An attempt should be made to provide context. Where does it come from? Why does it happen? These questions are not truly answered. This movie involves Miles as a character but doesn't really do much to reveal who he was. He's lonely it seems, though understandable given his personality, and he has a scratchy voice, but not much more is learned about Miles.

Last year, we got a great, music biopic in Love & Mercy, which focused on Brian Wilson. It's become a kind of new standard for how to do a music biopic well or in an interesting way. It's also become a film against which I've compared all subsequent biopics. This film did not engage me the way that one did. I walked out Love & Mercy completely caring about Brian Wilson, and I wasn't a fan of his prior to seeing that movie either. This movie just didn't do it.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for strong language throughout, drug use, some sexuality/nudity and brief violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.


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