A Daring Original: Miles Ahead review

miles ahead review cole smithey

“Miles Ahead” reveals Miles Davis’ larger-than-life personality to awesome effect. Here’s Cole Smithey’s Miles Ahead review.

aNewDomaincole-smithey — Don Cheadle’s independently produced labor of love is an exquisitely polished love letter to the iconic genius who revolutionized music five times over during the 20th century.

“Miles Ahead” is a big movie with Miles Davis’ music and mind, front and center. Narrative information seeps from every pore of this film.

Clever narrative devices filter historical fact with apocryphal cinematic flourishes to get at Miles Davis’ larger-than-life personality. It’s a daring and original approach that works like a charm.

As Don Cheadle said at the New York Film Festival press screening, this is the kind of movie Miles would have wanted to act in. One viewing isn’t anywhere near enough to drink in all that this great film has to offer. This movie has multiple Oscar nominations written all over it.

miles ahead review cole smitheyCheadle directs himself with attention to the story’s overarching tonal and rhythmic ebbs of musical influence. We see Miles Davis when we see Cheadle playing the trumpet. Cheadle’s transformation is absolute. The effect is hypnotizing. It would be selling the veteran actor short to say that he was clearly born to play Miles Davis if only for his similarly structured visage of Davis’ handsome and athletic bearing.

There is so much more to Don Cheadle’s dramatized incarnation of a legend. The diligent actor walked many psychological and physical miles in Davis’ ubiquitous shoes to arrive at the incredibly high level of performance that he gives here. I’d give him the Best Actor Oscar right this minute. It simply doesn’t get any better than this. Dustin Hoffman in “Lenny?” Yep, this movie does that and more. “Pollock?”

Yes, Cheadle shows off real horn chops just as Ed Harris threw real paint as Jackson Pollock. And, still this movie does so much more than either of those estimable examples of the biopic genre. It is no small feat to reinvent the biopic genre. Witness Aaron Sorkin’s failed attempt at the same goal with “Steve Jobs,” a movie that comes nowhere near the level of narrative sophistication that “Miles Ahead” does. “Miles Ahead” flicks and grooves like nobody’s business.

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When asked at a New York Film Festival premiere screening how he juggled so many tasks while making the picture, Mr. Cheadle replied, “Drugs.” Watching his wonderfully inspired portrayal of Miles Davis is like taking an emotionally charged musical journey drug, for the audience.

It doesn’t hurt that Mile’s former bandmate Herbie Hancock oversaw the film’s musical aspects with the assistance of veteran composer Robert Glasper.

Although the film doesn’t open until April, 2016, it is being given a limited release qualifying run, in order for it to be considered for the 2016 Oscars.

Cheadle and his fellow screenwriters break the typical biopic cradle-to-grave format with an approach compatible to the way Miles Davis’ actively creative mind worked. Sturdily constructed subplots weave between two days during Miles’ ‘70s-era retirement from music, and earlier periods related to his time with Frances Davis (1958 – 1968), the woman featured on the cover of Davis’ 1961 album “Someday My Prince Will Come.”

A hot chemistry boils between Cheadle and the impossibly beautiful actress, who plays Frances with an elegant poise and feminine power that is out of this world. Muse? You bet.

The “Sketches of Spain” recording sessions make for a cool peek at Miles directing his band with the assistance of Gill Evans (Jeffrey Grover). We are entranced by Cheadle’s elegant command of his characterization.

Here’s a live interview we shot with Don Cheadle at the festival.

For aNewDomain, I’m Cole Smithey.

About the author

Cole Smithey

Based in New York, Cole Smithey is the coolest film reviewer in the world. He's also our film reviewer here at aNewDomain and our sister pub, BreakingModern.com.