Miles Ahead is an impressionistic picture of the life of Miles Davis during troubled times when he is trying to make a comeback after a five-year hiatus from music. It hits the high points without being constrained by chronological order, which perhaps is meant to reflect his personality and his ever-evolving work—temperamental, controlling, short of temper, yet at times, very sweet and smooth. This is also the time in the 1970s when he is madly in love with his second wife, Frances Taylor (Corinealdi), who ends up leaving him. (Most report that she is his first wife, but he was previously married at 18 to Irene Cawthon, and they had three children.)
Don Cheadle, the co-writer with Steven Baigelman and director and producer of Miles Ahead, has an uncanny resemblance to Davis, and is at the top of his game in acting out the role. McGregor plays a good newspaper reporter, but unless Davis was actually friends/accomplices with someone like that, he seems nonessential to the story, and inserted as a technique to link events together.. Corinealdi is beautiful and appealing as Frances, and the film is probably accurate that Davis kept yearning for her long after she was gone.
I very much liked Robert Glasper’s treatment of the music; enough was included to get a real sample of Miles Davis’ playing and work with other musicians. (Davis’ own playing was dubbed into the film.)
The film does a good job in showing how much a famous artist has to fend off interlopers who use every kind of ruse they can think of to get their hands on his work. Much of the film is about that—different people trying to get to and manipulate Davis into “coming back” and getting their hands on one of his beloved unreleased reel tapes.
What I could have taken much less of is the jerkiness in telling the story—flashing back and forth among many, many incidents across decades, although mostly in the ‘70s, apparently a fad these days with writers, directors, and editors. In this case, with all the important events and hordes of people running through the film, it gets tiresome trying to keep everything straight in one’s head. The constant fisticuffs got tiresome as well. Even if they did really happen with that rapidity, I don’t see the point of including them.
Cheadle shines as Miles, but the film is undone by its scattered approach.