With Don Cheadle and Ewan McGregor.
This is not a standard musical biography about a genius who had his demons, in this instance drug addiction, alcoholism, bad choice in friends, wives, etc.
This movie covers about a five year period in which Miles Davis does not produce anything, goes underground for his own reasons, and is hauled out of this state of inertia by a nosey journalist who needs a scoop about the famous musician gone silent.
Don Cheadle does not look like Miles Davis but channels his coolness dead on and plays a mean horn. Ewan McGregor’s character is made up out of whole cloth to get the story, a sort of a thriller, moving. The plot concerns recovering a stolen audiotape. Guns are brandished to great dramatic effect, and there are chases in glamorous cars, including Miles Davis’s gorgeous Jaguar, circa 1979.
I love Miles Davis. I love Don Cheadle. I was predisposed to love this movie. And I did admire the trippy way that action moved forward and back. But there is something sloppy about the narrative, perhaps because this is the director’s first movie.
Cheadle shows how women were treated during the 1950s. When Davis asked his adored first wife Frances Taylor to stop her triumphant ballet tour in London, in order to come back and marry him because he needed her, we watch the scene through the jaded eyes of someone living in 2016, but feel the thing as it took place in 1961. When Davis went crazy from the pain killers he needed to take for his damaged hip, we see the wife again, trying to cope with a man made mad, escape. Emayatzy Corinealdi who plays Frances Taylor is outstanding in these dramatic scenes.
Both periods are acknowledged, the one we are living in and the one being depicted. This is harder to do than you would think, and I think that Cheadle does a good job traveling through Davis’ time frames. Davis’ end date (he died in 1989 at 65) is not given, and he remains immortal.
McGregor is never really needed, except as Cheadle confessed in an interview, to get funding, because after all, you needed more than a bunch of black people to get funding for a major motion picture. As the token white guy, McGregor is more than passable. His acting helps keep the sloppy plot line from getting in the way of being completely bothersome.
But this is Cheadle’s movie, and he owns every inch of the screen with his performance. His heavy lidded gaze, and attention to single notes threaded together as music make the movie. There is no question about whether Davis’ music will last. I came home and played one Davis record after another.