Director: Don Cheadle
Stars: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor
The bar is set so low for biopics that one can flip over Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis movie just because it’s out-there. Not only does most of “Miles Ahead” take place in 1978, deep into the jazz legend’s hiatus/drug stretch, but there’s also a car chase, a shoot-out and a coda where Cheadle’s Davis plays on stage in 2015 with a jacket sporting a hashtag. It has flashbacks to the glory days, but they’re relatively sporadic and they mostly revolve around Frances (Emayatzy Corinealdi), the wife who got away. The story of how Davis discovered John Coltrane is talked about (briefly), not shown, while Davis himself, when asked to tell his life story, crows, “If you want to tell a story, come with some attitude.” He says it twice, just to underline the film’s renegade m.o.
But there's more to this than shtick. Yes, instead of The Miles Davis Story, we get a rollicking, comedic sorta-thriller. One normal wasted day, Davis is greeted by a shady Rolling Stone journo, Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor), on his doorstep. “I’m here to write your comeback story!” he enthuses. Then Davis punches him in the face. But Dave grows on him, sort of, just in time for Davis to run afoul of a slimy A&R man (Michael Stuhlbarg), whose hired goons have absconded with a stolen tape of sessions that may or may not become his first record in five years. Hence the car chase.
Peppered throughout the mayhem are Davis’ wistful/harrowing memories of a beloved bad relationship. Frances Davis — an occasional star on his record covers, most iconically “Someday My Prince Will Come” — is a co-executive producer here, though it’s no vanity project. Corinealdi’s Frances starts off as a gauzy dream girl then slowly grows in agency. At one point Davis demands she quit professional dancing (even though he'll slip into a bed full of women shortly after a heartfelt phonecall). She quietly implodes before storming off, bristling at the idea that only one of them can have an artistic passion.