As the director, producer, writer and star, Mr. Cheadle’s take on peeling back the legend of the trumpet-playing powerhouse was intense but not quite the biographical film viewers were hoping for.
Rather, Miles Ahead (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Rated R, $30.99, 101 minutes) focuses on his emotionally drained, self-imposed retirement in the late-1970s in New York City but also looks at what might have happened during the time if the artist acted as more of a gangster than musical visionary.
As Davis once said,” If you want to tell a story, you better come with some attitude, man.”
Realized through a relationship with fictional Rolling Stone’s reporter Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor), a crazy plot tied to recovering a stolen tape from a smarmy record producer (Michael Stuhlbarg) portrays Davis as a thug, getting into fist fights, shootouts, a car chase and seamy drug deals.
Viewers do get a dose of reality through intermittent flashbacks covering decades of the artist’s career with some steamy musical sessions and a look at his failed marriage to Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi).
A digital transfer highlights cinematographer Roberto Schaefer’s use of 16 mm film stock to capture a raw, grainy and somewhat hazy visual presentation, perfect to reflect a 1970s life in the Big Apple.
Fans will appreciate this impressionistic, visual love letter to him aurally as well with over a dozen passages from such Davis staples as “Nefertiti,” “Agharta: Prelude 2,” “So What,” “Duran,” “Frelon Burn” and, of course, “Miles Ahead.”
Overall, Mr. Cheadle delivers a work as scattered and frenetic as Davis’ ingenious music stylings.
Best extras: Mr. Cheadle, the relentless creative force behind the film, and co-writer Steven Baigelman offer insight into the entire production process with an optional commentary track.
Most importantly, we learn more about Davis from the pair than by previously watching the entire movie. Unfortunately, it’s still not enough to understand the man who literally crafted his own musical genres.
Additionally, viewers get 20 minutes about the production often featured with words from Erin Davis (Davis’ son), who pays tribute to his dad. It also reveals some of the magic behind-the-music sessions and a grand finale that placed Davis (Mr. Cheadle with horn) playing with a contemporary group of musicians.
Finally, it’s worth watching another 20-minute shot at The Marc Theater during the Sundance Film Festival to hear from Mr. Cheadle and the cast talking about the film and taking questions from an eager audience who just saw the movie.