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Miles Ahead | Review

Kinetic & Spirited: Debut Heavily Reliant on Cheadle’s Perf

Don Cheadle Miles Ahead PosterHis raspy voice precedes, commanding the dark screen. Front and center, the unruly Don Cheadle channels the late Miles Davis as he cooly dodges and pushes back the unseen interviewer while his effortless air draws and intrigues. Arguably the most efficacious as the star, Cheadle ambitiously also serves as the director, co-writer, co-producer to Miles Ahead, bold in the endeavor to challenge the traditional trademarks of the biopic. An effective and eager debut, its fearlessness results in an unwieldiness not unlike its subject matter.

Hidden away from the public eye for five years with no new music, Cheadle plays the inconsistent genius artist, finding comfort amongst his sheet music and disheveled homestead. Likening a very persistent door salesman, Rolling Stone reporter Dave Braden (shaggy Ewan McGregor) intrudes, keen on inking his comeback story. His tenacity and intentions soon find a chink in Davis’ armor who drags him along as he tries to retrieve important recordings stolen by Columbia Records. Also after the records is slick music producer (Michael Stuhlbarg) whose hooks are set deep in Junior (Lakeith Lee Stanfield), a young protege trumpeter, duly crossing paths with the washed up Davis. Intercut are flashbacks of ex-wife Francis Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi), who once served as a muse but now a ghost that haunts Davis.

Cleverly disguised with the heist rooted as the main structure, there is a great ambition to steer away from the traditional biopic narrative. Present is a kinetic energy aided by the music which helps to sustain a vibrancy throughout. McGregor and Cheadle are an odd but entertaining buddy pairing, playing well off one another’s contrasting personalities. Though Cheadle is clearly the stand out, fully encompassing the voice, the limp, and the playful nature of the accomplished musician, he falters by conceding to the familiar figure of a volatile artist, the troubled soul straining to keep demons at bay. From the first courtship to the argument that ended it all, the moments with Francis are underwhelmingly commonplace. His gaze (goes as far as bathing her in a halo light) restricts Francis from a fully fledged female counterpart though there are hints of building tensions and shifts towards such an allowance.

As a first-time feature director, Cheadle tackles this passion project with a commendable fervor. Even in the title itself, there’s a clear reverence and idolization of the subject matter. There’s a generosity that he allows his characters, displayed in his choice of ending and heartfelt tribute. With the interplay between the past and present, reality and fantasy, which at times serve as a distraction from tropes (and perhaps substance), there’s a confidence usually reserved for those more experienced. Cheadle captivates as Miles Davis and Miles Ahead serves well to his talents.

Reviewed on October 12th at the 2015 New York Film Festival – 100 Mins.

★★★ /☆☆☆☆☆

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