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Cinema Review: Miles Ahead ***

Michael Cox reviews Don Cheadle's film that looks at the life and music of Miles Davis.

There is no denying Don Cheadle’s commitment to bringing the life of Miles Davis to the screen: he serves as director, producer, co-writer and actor. And make no mistake: Davis, easily one of the greatest musicians of the last century (if not of all time), is not just worthy of cinematic attention but has a life filled with possibilities for storytelling.

It's just a shame that Miles Ahead is not the great film it should be.

Perhaps it is ironic that it is Cheadle that is both the saving grace and weakness. As a director, he is fine. The film has a great look that evokes the periods dramatised, and the pace never lets up. As a writer, however, the film suffers. Apparently, Cheadle hates the term ‘bio-pic’, which is fine—even if the film seems intent on filling in narrative blanks with biographic detail. Focusing the film on the search for a late 70s session recording Miles has cut, and the music world doing what it can to get it, results in making this a multi-genre film: coming of age, heist and caper, to name but a few.

But it should be about the music, and when it is, it's really good. Watching Davis tote a gun and point it at an A&R man and having every single person he passes whisper ‘Is that Miles Davis?’ gets old quickly. But when he encounters a new song or works with musicians and arrangers on his material, the film soars to magical heights.

And it is here that Cheadle excels: he embodies Davis with vigour. Believable in every breath, he paints a brilliant portrait, and he’s constantly fascinating. The rest of the cast are fine, with standout performances from Emayatzy Corinealdi as Davis’ love interest and Ewan McGregor as a writer who ends up along for the narrative ride.

But this is Cheadle’s film, and with all the shortcomings he is still great. And even if the script has a few bad notes, the music is consistently exemplary.

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