How to tell the story of Miles Davis, one of the world’s most prolific improvisational musicians? It’s certainly not an easy one to solve. Do you focus on his creation of Kind of Blue, a widely acknowledged musical masterpiece? Or perhaps his creation of Bitches Brew, a jazz-rock odyssey created to show he could put together a better band than Jimi Hendrix?
After all with such a vast musical life you have to focus on something. Well the creator of ‘Miles Ahead’, Don Cheadle has decided the period where he stopped making music altogether is the best place to start.
It’s an interesting choice but what follows after making this choice is even more interesting.
The story is simple. A music journalist, Dave Braden played by Ewan McGregor attempts to interview Davis about his rumored comeback after five years out of the musical scene. This is no easy task as the reclusive Davis is prone to fits of violence and is mistrustful of more or less everybody in his life.
Yet somehow Braden wheedles his way in and pretty soon he is accompanying Miles as he attempts to recover the tapes of his last musical session from Harper, a dubious gangster type. This ends in a car chase come shoot-out, before David finally confronts Harper at a boxing match and reclaims his tapes to the accompaniment of gunfire.
This is all a lot of fun. Even though none of it ever happened. That’s right Cheadle makes it all up. For many this is deal breaker. Surely a biopic should show the facts of a person’s life? But as has been pointed out by reviewer’s biopics of artists are rarely as interesting as the artists work. Leaving anyone wishing to take them on with the problem of how to do it without being utterly clichéd and boring.
Todd Haynes tried to get round this in his Dylan biopic ‘I’m not there’ by having multiple Dylan’s, even a female one played by Cate Blanchett. This was original but not always that fun to watch, unlike Cheadle’s effort that is definitely entertaining if nothing else.
My own feeling is that there are probably about 20 movies you could make about Miles Davis and no one is ever gonna be satisfied by any of them. Fans will always have their own movie playing in their heads whatever they see on the screen.
The reality is by taking such an unorthodox approach Cheadle create a thoroughly believable, enigmatic and memorable Davis. Face it; sometimes the fiction is more believable than the truth.