Time Out says
Miles Davis comes out of his late-'70s tailspin in Don Cheadle's near-experimental biopic, as daring and uneven as the trumpeter himself.
"And I'm the asshole," Don Cheadle rasps disbelievingly at a bunch of Columbia label execs—he's playing trumpeter Miles Davis during his reclusive late-'70s "lost years" and the argument concerns royalties due. Davis has also brought a gun to the office and fired it at a glib A&R man, so maybe he is the asshole. That sense of personality conflict, raw and comic, makes Miles Ahead an unusually adventurous directorial debut for Cheadle.
Channeling Davis's spirited defiance has its pitfalls, though: For every explosive exchange between Cheadle and Ewan McGregor (playing a wholly fictional Rolling Stone journalist looking for a scoop) or Emayatzy Corinealdi as Frances Taylor, the dancer who gave up her career to be Davis's neglected wife, there's a detour into—brace yourself—car-chase sequences and action scenes. Miles Ahead consciously imitates the blaxploitation era of Shaft and Super Fly, a strange strategy that you can't help but smile at. Sometimes it feels hallucinatory, elsewhere it feels silly.
Cheadle is so good as the cryptic Davis—coiled to strike, soulful, wounded, boldly outspoken—that you wonder if a more traditionally structured biojazz picture à la Ray or Bird might have been a better showcase for what's obviously a passion project. But that wouldn't be Miles enough. The film borrows more than just the title of the revolutionary artist's 1957 album; it delves deep into restless creativity, racial ugliness (one producer watching Taylor twirl onstage murmurs, "Dark meat for Thanksgiving") and the still-thrilling spectacle of the birth of the cool. The movie's a big dare; add several more stars to this rating if that's your bag, as it was for Davis himself.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf
Cast and crew