Don Cheadle not only directs but also takes the lead role as Miles Davis in Miles Ahead, a film he describes as a metaphorical tale of an encounter between a Rolling Stone journalist played by Ewan McGregor and Davis at a time (1979) when drink, drugs and demons had turned the jazz musician into a recluse.
A rumoured comeback is marred when record company executives steal his tapes and the film turns into a syncopated chase movie with shootouts, fat lines of cocaine and multiple flashbacks to broken relationships and dreams turned to ashes.
As Davis confronts his early career and the loss of his recording company’s interest in the form of new rising talent Junior (Davis’s childhood nickname and basically his former self), played by Keith Stanfield, the film’s soundtrack is a reminder to the rest of us that real talent endures.
Miles Ahead was screened at the Abbeygate Cinema as part of the Bury St Edmunds Festival and the full house certainly seemed to appreciate the movie, lingering afterwards in the foyer to listen to DJ vinyl recordings of Davis’s jazz.
In the auditorium the soundtrack was punctuated by appreciative murmurs – what you might call ‘jazz noises’ – although those of us sitting close to the speakers were fairly deafened by a soundtrack regularly punctuated with gunshots and screeching car tyres.
The pure notes emitted by Davis’s trumpet came as a blessed relief, especially in conjunction with the flashback scenes which were shot on 16mm film stock to add to the cinematic effects.
Cheadle has taken the road less obvious, focusing upon the messier and less palatable part of the Davis biography and at times the film takes the mess too literally but on the whole it is a creditable effort, avoiding some of the more obvious pitfalls of the bio-pic.