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Non-Review Review: Miles Ahead

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2016.

Miles Ahead is a very strange film.

Don Cheadle stars as jazz musician Miles Davis. Not that Davis particularly cares for the descriptor. “That’s a made-up word, jazz,” he reflects during the opening credits. Asked to select a better description of his work, Davis settles on “social music.” In many ways, that awkward conversation sets the tone for the rest of the film, which weaves between a fairly conventional music biopic and a comedy musical heist adventure for no real reason beyond the fact that it really doesn’t want to be a conventional music biopic.

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Miles Ahead feels like a passion project for Cheadle, who not only headlines the film but also directs and co-writes. Watching the movie unfold, it is clear that Cheadle cares deeply for the source material and understands the challenges the face any twenty-first century musical biography. Because Miles Ahead is adapting a life for film, it cannot avoid the familiar beats; the drug addiction, the disintegrated marriage, the wilderness years. However, Cheadle works to undercut these familiar tropes through a surreal and ambitious framing device.

Miles Ahead does not work. The film has no shortage of ambition, very clearly angling towards a free-form narrative style intended to evoke the protagonist’s unique musical sensibility. Cheadle is determined that Miles Ahead will not be lumped among the dozens of fairly nondescript musical biographies, instead tailoring something to his subject. However, Miles Ahead lacks the improvisational flourish that defines its central character, feeling more disjointed than harmonious.

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