To say “Miles Ahead” is an excellent documentary and will likely be remembered at awards season next year would be an inaccurate statement.
Not because the film is substandard in any way. It’s because it’s not a documentary.
Star/director/co-writer Don Cheadle has managed to bring Miles Davis back to life, channeling the jazz legend’s essence and bringing forward nuisances in his characterization, making Davis a real character and not a caricature.
Cheadle behind the scenes has put together a film that focuses on just a short period in Davis’ life. Unlike many other biographical films that encompass someone’s entire life in a two hour period, Cheadle finds a meaty chapter in the story of Miles Davis. It’s the late 1970s. Davis is already a musical legend. Between quick glimpses of moments from his younger days, this story profiles on a more reclusive Davis…one who is in chronic pain and being chased by his record label for his next big thing.
What happens next seems more a piece of fiction but upon research, it proves to be fact. Davis apparently has completed his new record but won’t relinquish it. So this likely masterful master tape is stolen and Davis will stop at nothing at getting it back. In scenes of drama, comedy, suspense and action, the film takes unbelievable steps in its story. Yet it’s true.
With dramatic content like that and a true character that is likely easier to parody than portray, Cheadle has proven why he’s one of the best working actors today. His voice, manner, appearance and even trumpet playing are spot-on, bringing David back to life. With every step he takes, gesture he makes, Cheadle his Davis. From the aging and sometimes frail Davis of the late 1970s, to a younger star on the rise in flashbacks, Cheadle is a master of his craft.
Ewan McGregor is a fine ally for Davis as journalist Dave Braden, but Cheadle is so mesmerizing in the lead role, it’s hard for any other actor to steal focus. Keyon Harrold deserves a lot of recognition as the trumpeter who performs Davis’ music to Cheadle’s on screen visual re-enactment.
While it’s too early to tell, and there could be five other worthy performances later this year, but if Cheadle is not up for Best Actor at the Academy Awards, the #OscarsSoWhite campaign should definitely protest. This is truly one of the best performances by an actor who is playing the role of a legend.
“Miles Ahead” opens April 1 in New York and Los Angeles. It will open in San Francisco April 8 and the rest of the Bay Area April 15.