Starring Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emayatzy Corinealdi
South By Southwest has become, among other places, a platform for actors to transition to directors with smaller films. Ryan Gosling did it last year with Lost River, Diego Luna the year before with Caser Chavez. Oscar nominee Don Cheadle (The Avengers) not only makes his directorial debut with Miles Ahead, but also co-wrote the script, produced and stars as Miles Davis. It’s not a biopic, nor is it that interested in exploring the iconic music. Miles Ahead instead, focuses on the drug addicted trumpet players financial troubles, struggle to compose new music and destructive personal life. The film is unfortunately smothered by newcomer syndrome as the narrative searching for artistry in the editing room jerks back and forth, from past and present.
It’s more than an accident that brings freelance Rolling Stone writer Dave Brill (McGregor) to internationally known trumpet player Miles Davis (Cheadle). “Don’t call my music jazz,” he says. “It’s social music.” After a punch to the face at his front door, Brill and Davis become friends in a 48 hour period that has them chasing drugs, stolen new music, and the idea that Davis can be great again. His coke addiction is meant to numb his pain but it only stirs up painful memories from the past. Pressured from Colombia Records to deliver new music, Brill thinks he can pressure the fledgling musician to talk about “his comeback” and get the new recordings in studio hands.
This certainly isn’t a film that celebrates the iconic musical journey of Davis, nor will it create any new fans.
Miles Ahead is like a seedy tour of Davis’ life on the downward slope. It’s another film that showcases the downfall of a popular musician. Cheadle doesn’t bring anything new to the genre, nor is his performance on a Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line) or Jamie Foxx (Ray) level. Cheadle who has been virtually absent from indie and mainstream films, returns to his first leading role since The Guard (2011). Cheadle’s script spends more time portraying Davis as a junkie than a musician. This certainly isn’t a film that celebrates the iconic musical journey of Davis, nor will it create any new fans. Cheadle also doesn’t make us care about this journey, if you are not a fan of Davis, what do we care if this guy survives, makes new music, or gets the next hit.
Ewan McGregor certainly adds something to this endeavor. Not that he gives a great performance, but his somewhat manipulative journalism character keeps the story at least mobile and moving forward. There is a car chase sequence where Davis is firing a gun at the following car, and it reminded me how far off course the film travels from a musical biopic. There isn’t much entertainment in the picture nor a lot to root for. Like many actors turned first time directors, they are led by passion for the project (even though this one landed in Cheadle’s lap), surrounded by “yes” men, rather than contemplating whether this film works as a whole.
Cheadle’s first endeavor as a director feels soulless and misguided.