A couple of weeks ago I reviewed I Saw the Light. It was the kind of movie that has, for the most part, made me lower any expectations and lose interest in music biopics. The formula is pretty standard: genius, fame, drugs, infidelity, depression, redemption/death. Whichever the final step is, everything gets wrapped up in a nice little bow.
Miles Ahead is not that type of biopic. Don Cheadle plays jazz legend Miles Davis in what is also his directorial debut. It’s not a groundbreaking movie and the performance is good, but not Oscar-worthy. Still though, Miles Ahead is so much more interesting and fun than anything this genre usually spawns.
I honestly am still not sure if this is a 100 percent true story or if this is a fictional story based on real people and real events. Either way, we open on Miles Davis doing an interview to promote his first album in five years (I can confirm that really happened). Ewan McGregor plays Rolling Stone (real magazine) writer Dave Brill (not a real person), who is set on landing an interview with Davis and thus making him a valuable commodity to any magazine.
After a night of drugs, booze and boxing, Miles gets robbed. A demo reel of new tracks he is working on for Columbia Records (real label) is stolen. Miles enlists Dave’s help to track it down. There’s blackmail, double crosses and gun fights. Really, Miles Ahead feels more like a caper film than a biopic.
That story is tied in with flashbacks to Davis’ first marriage with dancer, Francis Taylor (played by Hand of God’s Emayatazy Corinealdi). The two were very much in love and Davis was very awful to her. Miles Ahead isn’t an apology for Davis’ spousal abuse and it never tries to show him as a changed man, but it makes it very clear that Davis is beginning to understand that being a genius with a trumpet in his hands doesn’t excuse being monster in other facets of life.
All of the performances are good even if none of them blow you away. Cheadle presents Miles Davis as effortlessly cool and intimidating. He’s less Jamie Foxx’s interpretation of Ray Charles and more Richard Roundtree as John Shaft. It’s an impressive feat, considering Cheadle also directed the movie.
If you’re headed to the movies this weekend and have already seen The Jungle Book, there is genuinely nothing worth even considering spending money on other than Miles Ahead. It’s not a perfect movie, but it is very entertaining and highly rewatchable, and that isn’t something you can say for a lot of music biopics.
Demetri Ravanos is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has reviewed movies for Raleigh and Company, Military1.com and The Alan Kabel Radio Network. He can be heard weekday mornings from 6-10 on "The Morning Show with Mike, Lauren and Demetri" on Buzz Sports Radio.