Will Stop Playing Trumpet for Cocaine - a Review of "Miles Ahead (2015)"
I’m not sure when I first started listening to Miles Davis, though I think it was when I was in college. A girlfriend had introduced me to Davis’ “Sketches of Spain” in one late-night listening session, and I later bought copies of Davis’ “Kind of Blue” and John Coltraine’s “Blue Train”. It was like a class in Jazz 101 that I listened to over and over.
In the movie “Miles Ahead” a jonesing Miles Davis agrees to sign copies of his records owned by a young drug dealer in exchange for a better deal for his quarter-ounce of cocaine. Looking at his records, nearly all which were similar to the ones I owned in college, he says “Man, I’ve made 15 albums since I made these” his raspy voice dripping with disgust.
“Yeah, but these are the ones to get laid to” the dealer replies.
What happens when the world thinks you’re past your prime, an icon that is both revered and pitied at the same time? Worse yet, you’re not entirely sure they are wrong. In the late 1970’s, Miles Davis did go through a fallow period: addicted, burned-out, hounded by creditors and fans alike, isolated and searching for the next inspiration.
Donald Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead” uses this period as a backdrop for the story of Davis’ introduction and adventures with a Rolling Stone writer looking for a story who breaks into his home and out of his isolation. Interspersed between the scenes are flashbacks to Davis’ past and his wooing, mistreatment and eventual loss of Ruby Davis (the love of his life).
Cheadle’s impression of Davis feels spot-on throughout, with both his cocky assured ness and crippling self-doubt. Emayatzy Corinealdi, who plays Ruby, is both gorgeous and carries the emotional heart of the film. However, the general (largely apocryphal) plot which centers around a stolen session tape that Davis is determined to recover feels often ridiculous and over-wrought. At a certain point, I felt I understood why Davis may want to recover it, but almost entirely confused why nearly anyone would be willing to die in a firefight over it.
The real Miles Davis had a storied career as both a musician, composer and criminal. While “Miles Ahead” captures some of the genius of one of jazz’s greatest innovators, one wishes they didn’t cheapen it with a story that feels so beneath its subject.