Don Cheadle brings jazz great to life in "Miles Ahead"

Don Cheadle appears in a scene from "Miles Ahead."

Don Cheadle dons many capes in the new biography about jazz great Miles Davis: "Miles Ahead."

Not only does the veteran actor tackle the role of Davis, Cheadle also steps behind the camera in his directorial debut, served as a co-writer and produced the film. With all those credits it is clear this is a film that Cheadle has a personal connection with.

Cheadle's passion for this projected is easily displayed on the screen, an ambitious endeavor that doesn't always hit the mark but is held together by an Oscar nomination worthy performance by Cheadle.

"Miles Ahead" takes place during the five year period in the late 70s where Davis went AWOL from the music world. 

Interested in why he has chosen to step away, a music reporter named Dave (Ewan McGregor) shows up at Davis's home looking for an interview. What he gets instead is a front seat in a battle between Davis and a studio executive (Michael Stuhlbarg) over unreleased recordings.

While this is going on Cheadle also flashes back to moments from earlier in Davis's life, mostly his rocky marriage to dancer Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi).

Cheadle's direction is clearly going for a free form type of narrative that echoes the jazz legend's musical style with the nonlinear timeline. It helps to give "Miles Ahead" a jolt that is needed when some sequences tend to lag more than others.

But for all of his attempts to spruce up the narrative, it still falls into some of the standard bio-pic checkpoints.

The relationship with Taylor features some of the best scenes in "Miles Ahead." McGregor's Dave feels like an afterthought, just an excuse to push through a main story line that feels more like a buddy crime caper than a story about one of most influential musicians of all time.

Even when it seems like "Miles Ahead" is about to completely come off the rails, Cheadle's bravura performance is there to steady the proceedings. There is a swagger and confidence in Cheadle's work that captures the essence of Davis.

You may not learn much about Davis in "Miles Ahead," but thanks to Cheadle's performance you certainly get a sense of who he was.


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