OP-ROB RATING: STARTER
“Miles Ahead” is a film about the Jazz musician Miles Davis directed by Don Cheadle and starring Don Cheadle as Miles. The basic premise of the film revolves around an encounter between Miles and a nosy reporter named Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor). Set in the 1970s, Miles is living in his New York City home as a recluse and cocaine addict, refusing to produce any new music. Braden manages to break into Miles’ house insisting on an interview and is promptly socked in the face by the Prince of Darkness. Infuriated by the invasion of privacy, Miles travels to Columbia Records with a gun in order to lambast his producers. It is in the studio headquarters where Miles is introduced to a jazz musician named Junior (Keith Stanfield) and his sleazy agent, Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg). Miles promptly leaves the studio when Braden promises to score them some quality cocaine. During a house party at Miles’ later that night, Junior and Hamilton steal a new recording from a drawer in the house. Through a series of events, Miles and Braden end up as a kind of tag team to retrieve the stolen recording. Throughout the adventure they encounter a series of obstacles and run into various amusing situations.
What separates “Miles Ahead” from an average biopic is the way in which Cheadle directs and tells the story through two distinct lenses: the mythic Miles and the factual Miles. There are essentially two storylines, one that is strung together throughout the film on a consistent timeline and another that is delivered in intermittent flashbacks. The flashbacks typically reveal an event in Miles’ life that really occurred: moments in studios making the music that defined an era of jazz, scenes of tumult with his wife, and the infamous the assault outside the Birdland music venue in 1959. Cheadle’s cuts to the past are always creative, and usually flow from what is going on in the 1970’s storyline. In one scene Miles is holding a punching bag and encouraging Braden to take lick at it. One of Braden’s punches cuts into a flashback. The most interesting technique Cheadle employs occurs after Miles has an emotional conversation on the phone with girlfriend Frances (Emayatzy Corinealdi) in which he asks her to marry him. After Miles sets down the phone he returns to a bed occupied by two nude women. As Miles climbs back in with the women the camera moves over a series of Polaroids scattered around the bed depicting the sex fueled night. Without a cut, photos of Miles and Frances’ ensuing wedding enter the lineup and the scene leads into the actual wedding day. It is an unconventional and telling sequence depicting Miles’ double life.
The fictional adventure involving the stolen record plays out much like a light and engaging heist flick. The flashback driven, realistic storyline in "Miles Ahead" often gives meaning to the overarching fictional one and brings the biopic together. Scenes of Miles’ turbulent marriage and wild sex life depict the many facts that comprise this unbelievable personality that is portrayed in the fictional story. The assault outside of Birdland helps explain why the mythic Miles is so abrasive towards white people. While the flashbacks do provide many hints that characterize mythic Miles, they certainly don’t tell the whole story. For viewers unfamiliar with Davis' life, there will be a significant disconnect between the two storylines. Those uninformed won't realize that Davis sees himself in Junior, who is a struggling trumpeter and heroin addict. This relationship is subtle, and can only be accessed with the knowledge that Davis was heavily addicted to heroin himself in the early 1950s.
Cheadle’s performance as Miles is terrific; he nails the raspy voice and mercurial flare of the late musician. Although this film is not catered to a wide audience, it is clear that Cheadle himself is a Miles Davis aficionado, and wanted the film to be for similar fans. In one scene Miles listens to a man on radio proclaim his record Kind of Blue a “masterpiece”. Hearing this, Miles phones into the radio station declaring the record a “miss”. Miles Davis understood what people wanted from him. He knew what was popular, i.e. Kind Of Blue. But Davis didn't want to be popular; he wanted to push the limits of those people who thought they knew his music. In many ways, a Miles Davis biopic could be crafted without much innovation in terms of the actual storyline. Get a good director, a good lead actor, a good screenwriter, and the product wouldn’t look too shabby. However, as a Miles Davis admirer, Cheadle takes a lot of risks by going on an unconventional route with a fragmented storyline and a completely fictional cover story. Amazingly, the risks pay off. The film is quirky, entertaining, well directed, and always unpredictable. “Miles Ahead” is a fitting tribute to its larger-than-life subject.
 One of my favorite Miles quotes left out of the film is, “it’s like, how did Columbus discover America when the Indians were already here? What kind of shit is that, but white people’s shit?” An actual quote from Miles Davis, it reveals the kind of biting wit and attitude that is infused in the mythic Miles portrayed by Cheadle.