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Miles Ahead (1/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 100 minutes.

Not for children.

Iíve been steeped in Miles Davisí music since the age of 10. He is so many things, not the least of which is an indefatigable symbol of creative energy and power; someone who was never afraid to step out of his comfort zone; someone who was totally uncomfortable with stasis.

Over the years I was approached by various people, some of whom were close to Miles and others who just wanted to see a movie about him; and they said that if anyone should play him it was me (sic). Iíd already been in a number of standard bio pics and I had no interest in making another since I found them full of contrivances and fabrications. You know, ďbased on a true story.Ē Writer (with Steven Baigelman)-Director-Star Don Cheadle.

So what does Don Cheadle do? He makes a film full of contrivances and fabrications. You know, ďbased on a true story.Ē If Cheadle admires Davis, Iíd hate to see what he does to someone he does not admire.

Davis lived 65 years and most of it was productive, becoming a legendary jazz trumpeter. But Cheadle picks the five years out of Davisís life, in the 70s, when he was not productive at all due to writerís block, a deteriorating hip, and drug use, some of which was to alleviate the pain. He is shown to be an angry, abusive, self-centered egotist.

Contrivances and fabrications? Iíll give you some contrivances and fabrications. The costar of the film, Ewan McGregor, plays Dave Braden, a writer for Rolling Stone, who never existed. Cheadle claims he created this white character out of whole cloth because he needed a white costar to get financing. Are we to believe that there was not one real white person in Davisís life, and thatís why Cheadle had to invent one?

Another major character, Junior (LaKeith Lee Stanfield), is an additional fabrication, a contrivance, apparently intended as a metaphor for a younger Davis.

There is a McGuffin in the movie, too, which revolves around a tape of Davisís music that has been stolen by Junior and his friends. Davis and Braden try to get it back. This is pure fiction, a, shall we say, ďcontrivance,Ē or maybe ďfabricationĒ is more accurate.

Cheadle indicates that he admired Davis. In fact, he admired him so much that he decided he had to make a movie showing that Davis was a gangsta.

Letís get real here. Miles Davis has a reputation as being a superstar musician. There has never been a movie made about his life. Lots of people donít know much about him or his music. Cheadle has the opportunity to publicize Davisís talent and accomplishments by making a major motion picture about his life. So he picks the five years when Davis accomplished nothing musically and presents him as a lawless, brutal, abusive gangster.

But, hey, itís ďbased on a true story.Ē It is true that there was a man named Miles Davis and he did play the trumpet (of which we see very little in this movie about his life). Everything else in this film seems to have been contrived and fabricated.

I didnít know much about Miles Davis before I saw this film. If I am to believe this Hollywood biopic, I now know him as an unlikeable, violent, wife beating, coke-sniffing drug addict gangsta egoist who played the trumpet. Iíve heard thatís not far off the mark (except for the gangsta part), so I guess Don gave us what he wanted. And he apparently didnít want music highlighted.