Don Cheadle has wanted to make a movie about Miles Davis (1926-1991) for over a decade. The result is a warts-and-all biopic chronicling some of the highs and lows of the legendary trumpeter’s career.
Cheadle not only produces, directs, and co-writes the movie, but he also plays the title character in a haunting performance that convincingly portrays the spirit of Miles — from his gravelly voice to his mercurial temperament.
Even though the impersonation is spot on, the surreal screenplay leaves a lot to be desired. The script eschews a conventional chronological approach to storytelling in favor of a free form structure that shows a series of vignettes that focus on his messy private life more than the man’s music.
The picture’s point of departure is 1975, when we find Miles in the midst of a self-imposed five year break from the music business. He spends his days barricaded in his New York apartment consuming drugs in order to mask the pain from a chronic hip condition.
Things change when Dave Braden, a pushy Rolling Stone reporter (Ewan McGregor), forces his way into Davis’s solitude in search of a scoop about a rumored comeback. Braden circumvents Davis’s dislike of journalists by serving as his chauffeur and procuring cocaine on his behalf. Of course, Braden has a hidden agenda, namely, gaining possession of the master tape of Miles’ next album — if it exists.
As this is going on, Davis reminisces about his past, which leads to intermittent flashbacks — mostly about his tempestuous relationship with his first wife, Frances (Emayatzy Corinealdi). Unfortunately, Miles’s impressive body of work is given short shrift. except for the handful of classics on the soundtrack.
Very Good (***). Rated R for drug use, nudity, sexuality, brief violence, and profanity. Running time: 100 minutes. Studio: Crescendo Productions. Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics.