Thursday, April 21, 2016

Miles Ahead - fictional portrait of real life jazz man whose on-screen daemons nearly drown out his music

Miles Ahead - Icon Film Distribution
Miles Ahead is a semi-fictional posthumous biopic of the very real jazz musician Miles Davis that weaves genuine incidents around a cooked up gangster plot that involves a gun-toting chase across a landmark-less New York to recover an overdue master tape of new tunes from record label executives. Since it was Davis who said “play what’s not there”, his ghost can hardly criticise the fantastic plot.

Don Cheadle plays the jazz social musician whose trumpet fingering can’t keep up in an opening scene but is much better throughout the rest of the 100 minute film. (Cheadle played saxophone as a child and learned to play the trumpet for this film that he stars in, directed and helped write.)

Miles Ahead - Icon Film Distribution
The story begins at the end of five years of silence in which the artist has gone to ground. The messy interior of his apartment, littered with bottles, music manuscript paper and paintings is convincing. Add to this Obi-Wan Kenobi with longer hair, playing a Rolling Stone journalist Dave Brill who inveigles his way into Davis’ house and Davis’ life in order to write an article that will blow open the mystery of the reclusive legend.

If you’re at all tired, there’s a good chance that the constant jazz lullaby will help you drift off to sleep. A gunshot or two will awaken you, but no significant plot points will have been lost. The story visibly lurches between the mobster storyline and flashbacks that give viewers a glimpse of the messed up jazz world.
“Oh come on man. This is nuts, man.”

Miles Ahead - Icon Film Distribution
It’s a portrait of a talented musician who lived life with a wild abandon and who tried to control everybody around him while exhibiting a complete lack of self control. The virtuoso quality of his playing doesn’t redeem his violence, philandering, wife beating (Frances played by Emayatzy Corinealdi) and drug taking. And none of those add to the enjoyment of the film.

The final scene enigmatically jumps to a present day concert with Cheadle’s Davis playing with a band. It’s probably a reminder that Davies went on to create and play beyond the period covered by the film … and the #socialmusic hashtag-emblazoned waistcoat that Cheadle wears implicitly refers to the crowdsourced fundraising that part-financed the film.

The music really is very good though. But not enough to redeem the movie.

Miles Ahead is being screened at the Queen Film’s Theatre between Friday 22 April and Thursday 5 May.

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