Magazine article Screen International

'Miles Ahead': Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Miles Ahead': Review

Article excerpt

Dir. Don Cheadle. US, 2015. 100 mins.

First-time feature director Don Cheadle has made an invigoratingly bold attempt to structure his film about Miles Davis as an extended visual and narrative equivalent of modal jazz, the form the legendary trumpeter pioneered on his groundbreaking 1959 Kind of Blue LP. No one, of course, need recognise this strategy to appreciate the passion of Cheadle's portrayal of the volatile Davis and that of Emayatzy Corinealdi as his muse and abused first wife, Frances.

Contextualised by transporting musical interludes, the performances should ensure the movie succeeds in urban markets. The dissonance between its two story strands may nevertheless alienate some viewers.

The framework for the film's "modal" experiment is the increasingly dark and turbulent progression of Davis's relationship with Frances, whose career as a dancer he curtailed after their 1958 wedding. Recalled by the melancholy Davis and depicted in flashbacks, their courtship and early marriage is the lost paradise he grieves for as he searches for a missing session tape in the film's improvisatory present-tense story, set in 1979 toward the end of his six-year musical "hiatus". The improvisation incorporates rapid cutting, freeze frames, and the use of polaroids and photos (to telegraph Davis's transition from bed-hopper to bridegroom).

Driving the movie, this present-day strand is its wild equivalent of a Davis "solo". Unfortunately, it's played as a rarely funny deadpan comedy, one peopled with music biz sharks, dealers, groupies, and hangers-on. Whether serene or searing, Davis's playing and moments of dedicated band leadership rise above the moral morass these bottom-feeders represent (and which sucked him down prior to his early 1980s resurrection), but their presence in the film leads a sour aftertaste.

The search for the tape regrettably frames Davis in a New York City buddy caper replete with a car chase and gun battle. The buddy he reluctantly acquires is Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor), a gratingly brash, Scottish-born journalist introduced pestering the reclusive Davis at his Upper West Side apartment in 1979. He claims he has a Rolling Stone assignment to get the scoop on the star's withdrawal and to report on his rumored comeback.

Believing he's been set up by his boss at Columbia Records, the gun-toting Davis drags Braden to a confrontation with a sleazy producer (Michael Stuhlbarg), who's mentoring the young trumpet player Junior (Short Term 12's excellent Keith Stanfield, billed here as LaKeith Lee Stanfield). …

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