With an Academy Award nomination under his belt for his stunning performance in 2004's Hotel Rwanda, as well as a couple of Golden Globes for his earlier days in TV and currently best known for his growing role in the MCU, as Rhodey (or War Machine), Don Cheadle is quite the actor. However, stepping behind the camera for Miles Ahead, just how great a director is he? His debut premiered at Glasgow Film Fest back in February and here's my review of it.

Unlike how most biopics follow their personnel of focus' rise to fame and their every up and down, Miles Ahead - which revolves around iconic musical artist Miles Davis - doesn't do that. Instead, we open in the late 1970's, where Davis (played by Cheadle) is taking an interview with 'Rolling Stone' journalist Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor), who wants to write a piece on the musician and the impact his music has had. Disapproving the formality of the interview, he tells Brill to "come with some attitude" and we're quickly launched into the story as we see Davis, who has been out of the business awhile now, washed up and spending his days intoxicated with drugs and alcohol. Plotting his big comeback, he is interrupted when Brill enters the picture. However, the pair soon find themselves caught up in all sorts of chaos - from being shot at to being involved in car chases - when record executives come after a secret recording of Davis'.
For Cheadle, who directed, starred in, co-wrote and co-produced this film, this is quite clearly a passion project - having gone to such lengths to get this film made - and, whilst the premise is pretty much all fiction, his goal of capturing the spirit and the truth of someone he is obviously greatly influenced by works. Rather than focusing on real events within Davis' life, Cheadle focuses on the man himself and uses this whimsical, superficial premise as a device to drive the character and to create a sense for who Davis was and to really capture the true essence of the artist. It's an atypical approach and adds a refreshing twist on the all-too-familiar biopic formula but, at the same time, Miles Ahead isn't quite a biopic then? Now, whilst I applaud the unconventional approach, it is one of my biggest problems with this film. The line between fact and fiction has always been blurred with biopics but with Miles Ahead, it's even more of a grey area and it's even more difficult to tell as a result. And, when you're watching a biopic, that can be quite frustrating.

However, aside from this, Cheadle's directorial debut is delightful. This is a crazy, buoyant and just engrossing watch from start to finish. Within the film, Davis often talks to Brill about style and attitude, two things which Cheadle himself brings to this project in abundance. The film screams with style, revelling in its 70s setting; from costume to makeup to set design - this film belongs right at home next to your Miles Davis vinyl - and by taking an wholly unique narrative approach, with its non-linear storytelling and its fictional plot points, from which to hang the truth of a real icon, this film packs the attitude too. It's an exhilarating watch and one that just keeps the metaphorical track going. However, it can get a little jarring at times because of everything that is going on and the premise occasionally loses its footing and can become a little uneven and discombobulated, with the non-linear approach being a little off-putting and unnecessary at times. Also, the film skims over a lot of details regarding the fictional premise and doesn't satisfy as much as it could.
However, it doesn't detract from the fact that this is a solid, enjoyable film. It's evident that Cheadle has poured blood, sweat and tears into making this and his immense effort is very commendable indeed. As an actor, Cheadle was born to play Miles Davis and he, undoubtedly, gives the best performance of his career as the legend. Nailing down his mannerisms to his rough, grunge accent to his messy afro hair and his slick wardrobe, Cheadle completely immerses himself into Davis, to the extent that we only see Miles Davis and completely forget that we are watching a recreation. The actor has every little detail locked down and his performance is something to behold. And the supporting cast is wonderful too, with McGregor matching him blow for blow as the fictional Brill and giving a career best performance too - really basking in the 70s era and the material. Cheadle's writing is great too and there are certainly plenty of laughs to be had and the narrative is competent, if not as fulfilling and cohesive as it could have been and his direction is exceptional; the craftsmanship is slick and stylish and pretty great for a first effort.

Miles Ahead has its fair share of problems but, regardless, it is bold and daring and, like Davis himself, it will stand out from the crowd. It's a film that is entertaining from the opening scene and one that is well-directed, well-shot, well-made and well-acted. The narrative is a little clunky and uneven and the film does drag a little but, ultimately, this is Don Cheadle's passion project and his passion for this subject couldn't be any clearer. This is a stylish and impressive directorial debut that promises good things for Cheadle and it's a jazz-soaked, inspired piece of cinema that is good whilst it lasts - if a little forgettable after the credits roll.

Don Cheadle makes a delightful directorial debut with Miles Ahead, a bold, stylish and impressive 'biopic'.

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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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