Combustible Celluloid
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With: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Lakeith Lee Stanfield, Michael Stuhlbarg
Written by: Steven Baigelman, Don Cheadle, based on a story by Steven Baigelman, Don Cheadle, Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson
Directed by: Don Cheadle
MPAA Rating: R for strong language throughout, drug use, some sexuality/nudity and brief violence
Running Time: 100
Date: 04/01/2016

Miles Ahead (2016)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Birth of the Cool

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Don Cheadle has been working on his Miles Davis movie for years now (I interviewed him in 2008 and he was working on it then), and the film that finally emerges seems to have been a tad compromised. It doesn't really even seem to have much of a story to tell. But it's so structurally and rhythmically free-flowing -- so jazzy -- that I think it's still worth a look.

Now, I'm not exactly a Miles Davis expert, but I'm not a newbie either. I think I had just enough information to be confused throughout most of Miles Ahead, as per just exactly what time periods are represented here, and which recordings/bands are being shown. I believe that most of what's depicted here is fictionalized, anyway. If you know more or less than I do, you'll be in good shape.

It's set at some point in what appears to be the 1970s. Miles (Cheadle) is working on some new sessions. I guessed at some point that they might be the Jack Johnson recordings of 1970, but we hear those on the radio in a later scene. He wants to be paid by the record company and refuses to release any music until he is. A Rolling Stone reporter, Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor) shows up at Miles' house to do an interview. After a complex series of events, Dave starts out with the intention of stealing the tapes, but eventually decides to help Miles get them back when someone else steals them.

Throughout all this, we get flashbacks to an earlier time, to a love affair with Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi), and some recording sessions. (Miles references "Nefertiti" at one point, which was recorded in 1967.) The film never tells us precisely when anything is taking place, or what recordings are being discussed. But this is also deliberate, in that it makes the film less literal and more impressionistic, more musical. That's terrific, but then we have the sequences with the reporter, which border on action/chase scenes, and feel almost tacked on. (According to some reports, money men wouldn't finance the movie unless there was a white face in it.)

The movie opens and closes on what appears to be a TV interview with Dave and Miles, but they don't seem to know each other, as if none of the story actually happened. Was it all a dream? Does any of it matter? Probably not, but at least Cheadle is showing off some serious chops here, on both sides of the camera, and he makes you want to go home and listen to more Miles, which is never a bad thing.

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