‘Miles Ahead’ – Film Review

A made-up story about a legend that’s enjoyable even if you don’t give a damn about jazz

Let’s brush past the title, which even if it is taken from an actual Miles Davis album is still a painful pun that means essentially nothing. Don Cheadle, who directs, stars and co-writes, has put together a biopic – in the loosest sense – that manages to be accessible to those barely aware of the jazz legend’s achievements and offer something beyond the usual soup-to-nuts life storytelling. It’s mostly lies but it’s entertaining.

Fittingly for a piece about a jazz musician, the film starts on a jarring note, then bibbety-bops its way around, seemingly randomly, until it eventually all starts to blend together into something you can actually follow. We first meet Davis (Cheadle, never surrendering to indulgence when directing himself) quite late in life, shut away in a large and expensive but bedraggled apartment. A man (McGregor) comes to his door claiming to be a reporter from Rolling Stone and then tails Davis for several days as he fights with his record company over his refusal to record more music, gets in a violent disagreement with a shady music manager and finds himself being shot at during a car chase. Throughout we flit back to the failed relationship that helped form this angry, insecure man.

It’s almost entirely invented, which perhaps should be made clear at the start because it would make it easier to understand what Cheadle is going for. The aim appears to be a broad strokes impression of a man, an attempt to get to a version of who Cheadle imagines Davis to be based on his music, not a picture of who he definitely was. Without that caveat it’s too easy to assume it’s based on fact.

Toward the end it becomes a tad too ridiculous, even within its own world, as Cheadle and McGregor run around town waving pistols, which smacks a little bit of not knowing how else to finish than with a big action sequence. Yet perhaps that too is supposed to be part of the whole jazz motif. The best songs don’t just repeat to fade; they go out with a blast.