|'Cheadle the leading man is continually undercut by Cheadle the writer and director'.|
"If you're gonna tell a story, come with some attitude"; so says Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) near the start of Miles Ahead. It's a credo the multitasking Cheadle, who directs, co-writes and stars, lives up to in his portrayal of Davis throughout his film. The actor's performance deserves to go down as one of his very best, reminding us of the kind of vibrant and engaging work Cheadle is still capable of even as he becomes ever more embedded in the perhaps less demanding franchise fare of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Unfortunately, Cheadle the leading man is continually undercut by Cheadle the writer and director. Whilst purporting to put across a true-to-life representation of Davis, those involved in the film have made no secret of the fact that much of what happens in Miles Ahead is fictional. The main thread of the film focuses on Davis in the late 1970s during a time when he stopped putting out any new music for a five year period. We see the musician cast in a gangster role, the film soon transforming into a buddy movie that sees Davis paired with (fictional) Rolling Stone reporter Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor). It's in these sections where Cheadle has the most fun in each of his roles: experimenting as a director, writing the film's wittiest lines, and more often than not delivering them himself "with some attitude".
Cheadle's secondary narrative moves further back in Davis' career to the 1940s, focusing specifically on his relationship with, and then marriage to, dancer Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi). Whilst seemingly the element of the film most closely based on historical truth, it's these sections which ultimately prove to be Cheadle's undoing. Compared to the crime caper antics of the '70s set sequences, too often the chronologically earlier narrative feels too conventional in execution and lacking in the depth needed to make them anything more than mildly engaging.
In the end, Cheadle simply attempts more than he can pull off in his directorial debut. Had he chosen to focus solely on one of the two approaches on display, allowing him to fully develop one set of ideas rather than offer partially realised aspects of both, then Miles Ahead may have ended up somewhat more successful than it proves to be. That's not to say that the film isn't something of a success as it is. Cheadle shows plenty of promise as a director, and it's pleasing to see him attempt a daring and unconventional approach to film-making whilst making some errors in the process, than be happy to churn out safe and forgettable fare - something you can imagine the real Miles Davis would have despised.