Miles Ahead, co-written, starring and directed by Don Cheadle, is a film with a manic-ness to it, a movement, which constantly keeps you engaged and willing and able to go along on the journey with it. It does lack some direction, but this is a film that moves with such pace and such excitement, that you just can’t stop yourself from wanting more. But does it all come together? Does the film lose its way or does it move with the beat of the music? Let’s dive in and see.
The story in Miles Ahead follows Miles Teller – played by Don Cheadle – who in his later years has lost the inspiration and the drive to produce his soulful music. Jumping back and forth, Miles Ahead shows you what led Miles Teller into a rut, while also showing you what he goes through to try to get back out of it. Unpredictability is the name of the game and this film is chock full of it.
The first thing I want to say about Miles Ahead is about that very thing in particular. Those two words you just read, ‘Miles Ahead’. It’s an awful title for a film and makes no sense. There, now that I’ve got that petty gripe off my chest, I can get on with the good stuff.
Unpredictability – this film was constantly surprising me, and throwing me into things that I didn’t see coming or expect. It really is an exciting ride watching this film. Unexpected jumping from one scene to the other are done in such clever ways, and at first I thought it could start to get jarring – all this jumping around, not really understanding where you are in the overall story, but that very much wasn’t the case. The film made it clear as to where the various elements of the story where in the context of it all, and I never once felt lost or confused.
The film also doesn’t only use conventional cuts to make one scene move to the next. Interestingly the film will have scenes bleed into one another, and it will cleverly hide the cutting in the transfer between the two (so the untrained eye doesn’t even notice it). A perfect example of this is when Miles Davis is in an elevator after a heated discussion and he begins to hear one of his songs coming from outside the elevator. All of a sudden he pushes the wall on the back of the lift and the camera then follows him through – it hides the cut by focusing in on the black of a piano and then pulls back out to reveal you in a different time and place in Mile Davis’s career/life. Its little touches like this that made watching the film so enjoyable. Even better is that moments like that make sense in the context of the film, as Miles Davis is not only a drug addict, but he is also suffering from some serious mental issues, and so having scenes that defy reality, make sense and add to the experience of the film.
What comes across in this film is the care and love that Don Cheadle had for making this film – not only with his performance (which I’ll touch on in a moment) but the overall depth to which he dives into Miles Davis’s life. I really got the sense that Don Cheadle had been working away at this film for some time, and he had so many of the interestingly constructed scenes planned out in his head or on a piece of paper. You get the sense that this was a passion project for him and that his love for Miles Davis and his music was deserving of a film that wouldn’t shy away from the darker elements of his troubled life.
That commitment to making a good film also transfers into Don Cheadle’s performance as Miles Davis. To put it simply, Don Cheadle becomes the character wholly. It’s one of those situations where you don’t see the actor anymore, you only see the character. There is a tragedy to Miles Davis and this is made accessibly apparent when you see what he was like when he was younger, happier and most importantly, in love. Seeing the difference in Miles Davis from the younger years to his older is clear and present on the screen, and Cheadle’s ability to portray both states of the man is what helps show that. I’m not as well versed in a lot of Don Cheadle’s acting work, but I’m confident in saying that this one is certainly up there.
While Don Cheadle as Miles Davis is dominating the scenes with the quality of his performance – alongside him is the missed note of Ewan McGregor as Dave Brill. Though he has purpose within the happenings of the film, Ewan McGregor’s character never really finds equilibrium with the overall film. I never felt like I understood his character, and the film certainly never made any effort too. He seemed to be there more as a plot serving device and not really much else. I guess he did add to the comedy between him and Miles Davis, but in the end, I couldn’t really tell you anything standout about him.
I do have one other issue with the film, and it is one that I think could certainly trouble some viewers of it. Miles Ahead lacks a coherent direction in terms of the story. It took a while for me to realise it, but the film doesn’t have anything of real note that it is driving forwards. This is one of those films where it is much more about the character and their journey, and much less about the destination. That lack of drive for some may be off-putting, or may even leave them uninterested, I‘m not sure – it certainly didn’t ruin the film in any way for me, but it was always there in the back of my mind.
The last point I want to touch upon is something that pertains to Don Cheadle’s directing style and (once again) his construction of a scene. In Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle never rushes or cuts unnecessarily. This is a film where as much time that is needed for a scene to play out is given. This meant that certain moments or the dialogue between characters was given time to play out and gain more weight and meaning. There were scenes that would play out long past the norm, and I would just settle into them and enjoy every second of it. I like a film that is willing to take its time and let characters or a story exist – moments where it feels real as lived in are always more enjoyable to me and this film delivers constantly on that.
I went into this film not expecting much. I wasn’t sure on Cheadle’s performance and I also wasn’t sold on if the film had anything interesting to say about the life of Miles Davis. I fully admit that I was not only wrong but that I unfairly judged this film before seeing it. I was more than satisfied with my time watching Miles Ahead.
I will be recommending Miles Ahead. It’s stylistic, it’s meaningful and it more than held my attention. There is so much unexpectedness with this film and I implore that you to give it a chance.
So do you have any interest in seeing Miles Ahead? Let me know in the comments down below. If you’d like to keep up-to-date with the rest of my ramblings, feel free to either follow this blog directly, or follow me over on Twitter – @GavinsTurtle (handy little link there for you). Last but never ever least, have a wonderful week.