Don Cheadle sees his new movie “Miles Ahead” — which he directed, co-wrote, co-produced and starred in — as “a piece of music” that he “composed,” he said at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, Friday night. Like a symphony, it has different movements, jumping back and forth between time periods of Miles Davis’ life, and between documented truth and fanciful fiction.
It doesn’t just have a flow; it has a rhythm.
The Oscar-nominated actor took part in a panel discussion and answered audience questions Friday, after the movie screened on the opening night of the second annual Asbury Park Music in Film Festival, which continues through Sunday (for more information and trailers, click here). He said he had no interest in presenting a straightforward biopic, but wanted to put together a movie that reflected Davis’ “dogged pursuit of reinventing and finding new ways to present himself.”
“My uncle would have loved this film, and the family is 100 percent behind it,” said drummer, Vince Wilburn Jr., who was also on the panel. (Wilburn played drums in Davis’ bands in the ’80s).
As a splashy opening night event for the festival, the evening was a total success. Cheadle was charming, and the large theater was not quite sold out, but still mostly full. Just as many other festival events combine films and live music, so did this one: The night ended with a set by the Keyon Harrold Group (Harrold re-created Davis’ playing for the movie), who played Davis’ “So What,” Robert Glasper’s “Junior’s Jam” (featured in the movie) and several originals.
I thought that “Miles Ahead” as a movie, though, wasn’t quite as successful.
Cheadle effectively conveys Davis’ sullen intensity and intimidating stare, and I like the way he tried to delve into Davis’ mind rather than simply re-creating the story of his life. But the central story of the film — a caper in which a gun-wielding Davis and a Rolling Stone reporter (played by Ewan McGregor) try to get some invaluable studio recordings back — was not as engaging as it needed to be.
I admire Cheadle’s attempt to make a dream-like, impressionistic movie, but feel he didn’t go all the way. Yes, he didn’t make a standard biopic, but by turning a good portion of the movie into a seedy, almost Tarantino-esque adventure — and adding another story line about Davis’ nostalgically remembered Woman Who Got Away, played by Emayatzy Corinealdi — he fell back on other kinds of predictability.