In Miles Ahead, fact is cause for improvisation

We all know Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain and Someday My Prince Will Come, but what about when the music stopped for half a decade? Like Todd Haynes in I’m Not There, a meditation on Bob Dylan’s career that shape-shifted from era to era and  filled the spaces between with an exploration of fan myth and artistic identity, Miles Ahead is a film where fact is more a starting point than a rule book. A passion project of director-writer-star Don Cheadle, Miles Ahead finds itself in the reclusive period from 1975 – 9, where the once prolific Davis retreated into his New York apartment, suffering from chronic pain, drug addiction, and memories of a marriage plagued by domestic abuse. In this version, a fictional Rolling Stone journalist (Ewan McGregor) finds his way into the apartment, sent from Davis’s record company to profile him, and the two quickly embark on an adventure to reclaim a stolen recording. The part adventure film, part serious drama, part musical tribute doesn’t always result in narrative harmony. The fiction proves to be weaker in some parts, a far-fetched and puzzling choice inserted in an otherwise moving narrative of how Davis’s marriage to dancer Frances Taylor ended in Taylor having to flee for her own safety. But Cheadle gives a committed and chameleonic performance and intriguing direction to his first feature. It’s intriguing even when not being entirely successful because of its ambition to do something far from the crib-to-coffin formula that’s long fallen out of favour. The best moments are when Cheadle ponders the influence and lasting impact of someone like Davis – prolific but also wildly experimental, who’s lengthy discography is still discovered and adored by musicians today. In the final scene, foregoing the typical title card proclaiming the birth and death year, Cheadle simply gives Davis’s birth date. Just like in his reclusive period, he’ll return.

Rating: 3.5/5

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