Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
On the tail of a trumpet weilded by Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker in "Born To Be Blue," here is actor and director Don Cheadle as Miles Davis. This is an all immersive performance and a fine debut film that captures the gusty titan, albeit in one shade of blue. The film, entitled "Miles Ahead," focuses on Davis' exile from his art in the 70s when he endured a five year dry spell.
It becomes evident that Davis' paranoia is not unfounded. Business men are after him for new material. One smarmy man in particular, Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg) wants his unreleased practice tape. Davis is undaunted; he stalks about like a lion surrounded by red meat. Though this is not a flattering portrait, Don Cheadle completely inhabits this man in a new self-centered and scaly skin. His interpretation is bold, percussive and without compromise.
As a director, Cheadle shows character and verve, too. The film's imagery is periodically sped up and reversed backward to show the circular winding labyrinth of the musician's life: running from record execs, running from his marriage and running from gangsters. All of this man's life is about running. In this way, the film itself is a collaboration between Cheadle and Davis---an eccentric riff.
Compelling as well is the concept of the musician as anti-hero. Davis fires a gun at those he feels threatened by without hesitation. In one scene, he demands money. Miles tranforms by his own desire into a sizzling reptile in red silk. Cheadle's careful attention to detail brings this forth in bold croaking bursts. Davis' misery is so cyclic and recurring that it almost reaches dark comedy.
He meets the fetching and magnetic dancer Frances Taylor (Emayatzi Corinealdi.) The two marry but sadly Taylor becomes a prisoner of Davis' uncontrolled aggression. The man known as Miles is left in a hot and bothered heap.
As vivid as this film is, the story begs for more vignettes of the Master during easier times when he held his trumpet like a third hand and he was as fascile as he was freaky.
The director gives a definitive representation of a genius. "Miles Ahead" may highlight only one half of Davis' face, but within Don Cheadle's whisper lies the full vision of a man who once rolled against the ropes with a scarlet-topped horn.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org