New York Film Festival, 2015
Biopics, particularly those chronicling musicians, tend to follow predictable patterns surrounding a rise from obscurity filled with pitfalls and setbacks. With judgments of quality momentarily tabled, Don Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead” deserves some credit for avoiding the traditional structure. The film, which captures the spirit of jazz great Miles Davis, does not resemble the jagged line of the normal genre piece. Instead, it feels like a series of jagged glass shards, presenting themselves for reassembly.
The form matches the subject quite nicely; Davis, in the film’s later timeline, appears wonked out from drugs and chronic pain. The shifting back and forth with little straightforward logic reflects his mental state. But the freeform flow of the film also mirrors Davis’ craft. “Miles Ahead” recalls the riffing and improvisation of jazz – or, as Davis himself was prone to call it, “social music.”
Content-wise, however, Cheadle’s film is not nearly as impressive. Davis says, “Change it up!” Ironically, “Miles Ahead” rarely heeds that advice and shows history repeating itself again and again. Per usual, the cross-cut stories do ultimately manifest their similarities. Yet along the way, the film somehow dabbles in a heist film-cum-buddy comedy as Davis and Rolling Stone reporter Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) track down a stolen session tape together. The arrangement may not be familiar, but the notes played in the film certainly are. B /