Miles Ahead – Review ****

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After a successful Indiegogo campaign and six years in the making, actor and first time feature director Don Cheadle finally managed to sail his project Miles Ahead to good port. An exploration (not a biopic) of the life and music of Miles Davis, the film takes to heart the artist’s motto, instead of centering around the facts of his life. Don’t get us wrong, there are some of those too, but what really matters is to tell a story with attitude, while playing the notes that aren’t there.

It’s been 5 years since Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) released his last album, and his producers are getting anxious to hear his still in progress demo tape, that will bring him back to the music scene. As Miles tries to create, he’s rudely interrupted by Rolling Stone journalist Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor), and the two end up driving through the city, shooting bullets over producers, getting shot at, buying cocaine and, at last, recovering Miles’s stolen tape. And while all of this is going, Miles remembers the days long gone, when he met Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi) and embarked on a self-destruction trip with no return ticket in sight…

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The film doesn’t feel like a first feature – it comes with a strong voice from a firm hand. Don Cheadle deservedly won the Directors to Watch Award at Palm Springs last year, and the fact that he manages to pull out not only some excellent directing skills but also a memorable performance as Davis is just astounding. The musician’s raspy voice, foul-mouthed attitude and charisma hold as well during his Howard Hughes-alike present as they do for his rose tinted past. But the strongest thing about Miles Ahead is it never puts the man it portrays on a pedestal. The stories of domestic abuse are shown on screen, with no high moral ground justification – the jealousy, slightly on edge craziness and overbearing love of Miles Davis are as much a part of him as his music and art statements. And here lies the genius of Cheadle’s script – this is a man for whom all is lost but his legacy, someone that will look to all means to safeguard his demo tape from the white capitalist bureaucrats. It’s a believable story, even if completely fictional. And the cherry on top of the cake comes when we are given a listen to the tape Davis was willing to die for – spoiler alert – it’s definitely not what we were expecting.

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With jazzy editing, full of dissonance, sudden tonality jumps, crossovers, and a structure that insists on putting an accent offbeat, throwing us into a crazy time tornado, Miles Ahead, with the seal of approval of the man’s family, is the film the man would have made himself if he would be so inclined. Not being strictly a musical biopic, it still gives us one of the best musical portraits – if not the best – of the last ten years at least. We hope the horn never falls silent on this one.

Miles Ahead will come to UK cinemas on 22nd April 2016

Sara is originally from Coimbra, Portugal, where she studied Film Studies before moving to London to enrol in film school. Having made her first short film about her neighbour's chickens when she was 9 (a dystopian sci-fi, still her favourite genre), she is now a London-based film director and editor, and also a writer for the Portuguese Take Magazine. She is a huge fan of Lars Von Trier, Krysztof Kiéslowski, and David Lean.