Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Movie Review #415: "Miles Ahead" (2016)

Movie"Miles Ahead"
Director: Don Cheadle
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
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Rolling Stone reporter Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor) learns about legendary jazz musician Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) through a series of crazy events on a quest to understand his hiatus from the music industry and to hear his unreleased session recording. All of this is mixed in with flashbacks of his relationship with his wife Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi).

"Miles Ahead" stars Don Cheadle as Miles Davis in a film he directed, helped write, and produced. The film is an unconventional biopic about the legendary jazz musician that paints a picture of Davis through a wild adventure he has with a Rolling Stone reporter named Dave Brill, played by the always stellar Ewan McGregor. Their wild few days together involves drugs, alcohol, guns, shootouts, and a stolen session tape Miles is attempting to retrieve from a crooked music producer. This oddball caper story is interwoven with flashbacks of Miles Davis's relationship with his wife Frances Taylor, played by Emayatzy Corinealdi, who is his muse. These sections involving Taylor are more like what you'd see in a traditional biopic, and reminded us of "Get On Up," which was about James Brown from a few years ago. Don Cheadle is excellent here and had to maintain Davis' distinct, gravely voice for the duration of the film. We cannot imagine how hard it must have been to do this, but Cheadle vocalizes it as if it were his own voice and it were easy to him. His appearance ranges from clean-shaven in flashbacks, to a disheveled, coked out mess in the scenes taking place in 1979. Cheadle is also really playing the trumpet during the movie, and learned to play some years before in preparation. What a class act. McGregor, Corinealdi, and Keith Stanfield are also very good in their roles, but are mostly outshined by Cheadle. McGregor, long locks flowing, looks like he's having a swell time as smarmy 70's reporter Dave Brill, who basically lies to get the inside scoop on Davis' comeback. Brill is thrust alongside Davis during his wild adventure. Corinealdi hasn't acted in many movies, but she's great as Davis' wife Frances in this more limited role.

The best part about "Miles Ahead" is Don Cheadle's job as director. The transitions between the time periods are handled quite well and flow together rather flawlessly. One moment, Miles will be in the present, talking to someone about cocaine or melodies, and then, BAM, he'll move in a certain way that propels the film into the past. This is an interesting way to tell a story about a figure like Davis, who was famous for his jazz music, or as they call it here, "social music." This movie, much like jazz itself, is technically proficient, but at the same time, wildly chaotic. However, in that chaos, it somehow works for those who are in to it. BigJ and I can't call ourselves jazz fans, but no one can deny that Davis was a star with a trumpet in his hand. Cheadle also expresses the present and Davis's inability to commit to making new music during his hiatus through a stellar metaphor, which is a symbol for him losing his mojo. It's little elements like this, expert types of storytelling that even big name directors often miss, that will make Cheadle an excellent director in the future.

Look, we're not going to lie, biopics can be some of the most boring movies to watch when they are done poorly. Part of it is just going to the movies so frequently, and part of it is the want of a filmmaker to replicate already successful biopics to the point where they don't offer anything new in their own film. "Miles Ahead" is an unorthodox biopic that mixes fantasy and reality to tell the story about social music great Miles Davis, who was clearly a storied, complicated man. Don Cheadle should really direct more films. This is not to say we don't like to see him act, because we do, but he has a unique flair behind the camera, an interesting flash in his eye, we'd hate to see him miss out by not directing more movies. He does an excellent job as Davis himself, but we think we appreciate his efforts as director more in this instance. Many audience goers may be put off by its jumpy narrative, but we really enjoyed how seamlessly Cheadle integrates the past and the present through jump cuts, photographs, and musical moments. This is a well paced, well acted film, and one we have no doubt was a passion project for Cheadle. A great cinematic directorial debut!

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 6.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 72%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?
One year ago, we were watching: "Iron Man 3"

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