Friday, August 5, 2016

Miles Ahead

Did Miles Davis ever run around Manhattan toting a revolver, threatening record executives and firing rounds during a car chase? Unlikely, downright improbable, though with what I've read about the mercurial musician, it's almost plausible.  Hard guy.  I didn't know him, of course, but the crusty personality of the real Miles might very well fit the behavior of this fictional one, played beautifully, raspy voice and all, by this year's MILES AHEAD's witer/director Don Cheadle.

Yet it's valid criticism to level at this bio - why the hell are we seeing Miles in scenes that would feel more at home in some assembly line Hollywood action flick? Why did Cheadle concoct a story of the great jazz trumpter, seen in his inactive period in the late 1970s, racing around NYC trying to retrieve a tape of his latest recording that has been stolen by an up and coming young musician? Why is Ewan McGregor (overdoing it) playing a Rolling Stone reporter who seeks to interview the legend but gets caught up in the chase? It all seems ill conceived to me.  I read that Cheadle got the blessing of Davis' relatives for his script, a story the director states suits the spirit of how Miles might've told his own story.

Maybe.  The unconventional method and plotline in the context of a biopic is an interesting idea, and I think I get what Cheadle was aiming for, but it often plays like a low grade action thriller.  That is, except for numerous flashbacks to the musician's golden years, collaborating with the likes of Gil Evans and his troubled marriage to dancer Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi).  These scenes are expert in their evocations of a lost era, though the bit where Miles is bloodied up by the police is as timely as ever.  In present day, Miles sits in a cluttered apartment popping narcotics and haunted by memories, mainly of Frances.  MILES AHEAD does not dive headlong into all the press of Davis' spousal abuse and infidelities, but we're given enough. The scenes with them are the best in the movie, and along with other moments that display why Miles was such a genius hint at what MILES AHEAD could've been.

I did like some things in the film.  While it's cliche for artists to dismiss their earlier, popular work, that idea gets plenty of mileage with Davis repeatedly frustrated that fans and DJs only seem to want to talk about Kind Of Blue; "I've made fifteen record since this," he growls to a young coke dealer, a kid who's used the classic album to get girls into bed.  Miles himself only listens to Sketches of Spain because it prompts sweet (though painful) recollections of Frances.  When we finally hear that elusive stolen tape, well....let's just say there will be eventual, further salvation in his music (stay through the credits).  Cheadle's journey to that moment is an odd one, though.

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