The last film I would be seeing at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival was one that I’d been looking forward to for years. Don Cheadle has struggled to make his long-awaited biopic on Miles Davis until recently, when he able to find financing for the film and a distributor in Sony Pictures Classics. The film has been on the festival circuit for several months now, and is made its final fest debut last night before the limited release debut in the US in a few weeks. Cheadle was there, and the audience was very hot for this film. It was a helluva debut, and a helluva movie about the legendary artist. Here’s my review of Miles Ahead.
Cheadle plays Davis in an interesting point in Davis’ life. He’s not playing anymore, and one of the more recent tapes of his music is trying to get into the hands of a slimy record executive (Michael Stuhlberg). During all of this, A reporter for Rolling Stone (Ewan McGregor) has been snooping around and Davis decides to bring him into his chaotic day, and try to get this tape back before the executives at Columbia Records mess with it. Also throughout the film, we see flashbacks of Davis with his ex-wife (Emayatzy Corinealdi) and how he ended up in the state that we see him in the 1970s.
Cheadle not only plays Davis in the film, but he also writes, directs, and produces Miles Ahead. He couldn’t find any director that wanted to make the film, so he decided that he was going to take it upon himself to do so. For the actor’s feature film debut, it’s a solid and very fluid film. The kinetic energy of each scene in its editing, directing and acting feels very loose and exciting, which is a rarity for some music biopics. Similar to Born to be Blue, another music biopic that debuted at SXSW this year (review here), the film is also a look at a musicians life that many of us aren’t all too familiar with, and it’s not an overly long film. Miles Ahead is about 100 minutes, which is the perfect runtime for this. While it does have its flaws from time to time, Miles Ahead is a really well-done film on one of the more fascinating figures in American music, and one that you shouldn’t miss when it’s released next month.
Cheadle was born to play Davis, and it’s arguably the finest screen work that the actor has delivered in a long list of terrific performances throughout the past couple of decades. From his raspy voice to his volatility toward his colleagues and loved ones, Cheadle truly disappears into the role, and its hopefully one that like Ethan Hawke’s portrayal of Chet Baker in Blue, won’t be forgotten by the end of the year. Ewan McGregor does some fine work as the Rolling Stone reporter who goes along with Davis on his wild trek to get his lost tape. I really like the buddy-movie dynamic between the two characters throughout the film, as the film is part biography/part adventure film. Stuhlberg is great as always, and Corinealdi is stellar as Davis’ ex-wife Frances Taylor. She’s only seen in flashbacks, but their scenes together are electric and intense, and I would’ve liked to have seen more of their scenes than the buddy comedy that was going on in-between, although both were very well done.
But other than that (and the rude people behind me who kept physically reacting out loud to sequences in the film. Please shut up and watch the damn movie), Miles Ahead was a really stellar biopic, and one of the highlights of the festival. Don Cheadle received a standing ovation after the movie, and rightfully so. Not only did he have to take on the task or writing, directing and producing, but he also had to become Miles Davis on-screen. That’s tough to pull off, and Cheadle being the incredible actor that he is did the impossible. Hopefully he achievements won’t go unrecognized later in the year.