To this day, Miles Davis’ album Kind of Blue is viewed as one of the most accomplished jazz records of all time. And after his official induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006 it seems a Miles Davis biopic has been a long time coming. Miles Ahead will premiere in April this year, starring Don Cheadle as Miles Davis.
Don Cheadle’s casting seems to have fallen straight into his lap, being nominated by Miles’ nephew himself. It also marks his directing debut, and so far has received critical acclaim after premiering at the New York Film Festival last year. Ewan McGregor also features, playing a reporter trying to interview Miles for his magazine. Interestingly, the film does not take the classic biopic narrative where the story begins before the protagonist rises to fame and ends in death. Instead the film follows Miles Davis and the reporter as they try to retrieve a tape from a session recording in 1979 – 5 years into Miles Davis’ musical drought, only to beginning to play again the next year. Hopefully, the choice to explore Miles as a person instead of his musical success and journey to fame will allow the audience an opportunity to know the musician better. It also features flashbacks and flashforwards between the action, reminiscent of Miles himself who bounced from topic to topic quickly and disjointedly as he spoke. Indeed, the film has so far already been called ‘surreal’, ‘surprising’ and ‘innovative’.
Cheadle is a brilliant choice to play Miles. As a jazz musician himself who has an intimate knowledge of Davis’ music and past, there is no doubt he will be able to give an effective performance of the trumpet player. His work portraying real people in previous films (Hotel Rwanda and The Rat Pack, where he delivered a spot on performance as Sammy Davis Jr.) would predict a nuanced and accurate performance. McGregor does not attempt an American accent in this film, which can only bode well as it prevents any possibility of voice slips, which often mar the illusion of a film. Even so, the 70s fashions and aesthetic are sure to elicit a little hilarity even if the general look is coming back into fashion this year.
Cheadle’s decision to direct the film came soon after he met with Davis’ family to discuss how the narrative would play out. It will be interesting to see if this was the right decision, as Don Cheadle has never directed a film before. But Cheadle’s extensive film work, from big parts to small, and previous work as producer in close cahoots with Stephen Soderbergh, would indicate that he has a good handle on how the job operates, and also that he has considerable vision as far as film production goes.
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In an exclusive clip released for the film we see Davis and McGregor’s reporter character driving through New York. McGregor drills him for information only to be told ‘to fill in the blanks’. Cheadle’s accent seems spot on, McGregor’s reaction believable. Overall, the lack of films about jazz instrumentalists, jazz music and singers in general make for a niche film – filling in a blank that has been empty for a while.
By Delilah Niel