For years Don Cheadle has been working on a biopic of legendary musician Miles Davis, fighting not only to get the movie made—always an uphill battle—but to direct it himself. Finally, after slogging uphill through the snow both ways, Cheadle premiered his film, Miles Ahead, at Sundance. He stars as Miles Davis, and Miles Ahead is his feature-film debut as a director and writer. He also produced it, and even contributed to the musical arrangements on the soundtrack. This is Don Cheadle’s baby, is what I’m saying.
And now we have a trailer by which to judge his effort, and it looks…bananas. Miles Ahead is set in the late seventies, in a period when Davis wasn’t performing or releasing new music. He was consumed by a drug habit, and it looks like Cheadle is also focusing on the fallout from the end of his first marriage, which was violent. I like that Cheadle isn’t shying away from the reality that Miles Davis abused his first wife, Frances Taylor. The impulse to clean up the darker edges of a great talent is almost impossible to ignore (see also: Walk The Line), but it looks like Cheadle resisted, and we’re going to get a fairly candid take on Davis.
There’s a sort of heist-ish vibe to it, though, that is confounding. The action revolves around Davis trying to retrieve a stolen master tape, and presents his conflict with his record label, Columbia, and Ewan McGregor co-stars as a made-up Rolling Stone reporter trying to get a story out of Davis during this fallow period. It doesn’t look bad, it just looks weird as f*ck. The two guys driving around and intimidating shady music scene types kind of reminds me of Shane Black’s upcoming new movie, The Nice Guys.There’s a distinctly Shane Black to the feel of the Cheadle/McGregor odd couple, and I wonder if working with Black on Iron Man 3—a highly collaborative process—rubbed off on Cheadle.
Miles Ahead is probably not going to be a mass-appeal breakout. Set a Davis biopic during the Birth of the Cool era, or the Blue Period, and there’s wider appeal, but Cheadle is focusing on Davis at his lowest. People don’t really like to think about the price of genius, and Cheadle seems bent on showing what being Miles Davis actually cost Miles Davis. With some weird crime caper shenanigans thrown in for fun.
Attached - Don Cheadle at Sundance last week for Miles Ahead.