By Wanda Sabir
In his directorial debut as Miles Davis, Don Cheadle certainly calls forth a creative yet deeply troubled spirit. In his Miles we see what happens when astral self-splits or loses sight of what is earthy.
The Davis we meet is in a slump; after a period of profound artistic success he slows to a creative crawl. A ghost haunts him; her name is Frances Taylor (actress Emayatzy Corinealdi).
The beautiful dancer from Chicago captures his soul and the mercurial master of sound chases her away. “Sketches of Spain,” and “Someday My Prince Will Come,” are just two of the many ways his love, their love manifests in the world then and even now.
She knows she is his inspiration and sacrifices her own love of dance and movement for a solo performance on Miles’s stage 24/7.
We watch Miles watching her, no longer there, but a presence nonetheless. Perhaps it is her beauty in the midst of so much ugliness—the infidelity, the coke, booze, disrespect and violence, that captivates us as much as the man who courts her until she says yes.
“Miles Ahead” speaks to karma and the fact that ugliness has a price and Miles was not immune. He paid for his trespasses on time, 3-4-6 years dry, record company calling for new music, his public assuming he’d died despite the absent body.
The artist lives like a hermit in his multiple storied apartment, alternately painting, listening to the radio, recording notes—thinking, daydreaming.
Cheadle’s Miles is unpredictable and dangerous—a reporter (“Dave Braden,” actor Ewan McGregor) comes to his door unannounced and Davis punches him in the nose.
And so begins the adventure, which is a crime story with a bit of love thrown in. Later the multitalented Miles teaches this same guy how to use his sparing bag. They get high together and even though Miles shouldn’t trust him he does.
Cheadle’s raspy voice, curly hair and audacity that is his Miles has a truth that makes a heart race or a hand tremble in the face of such genius wrapped in such unpredictability. Being in this man’s company could get you killed.
Even without a pistol, Miles is dangerous. Several times he puts his pistol to someone’s head and pulls the trigger shattering ideas about Black manhood and fear.
On screen, Cheadle’s Davis is fearless, which is perhaps another reason why Davis, the man, who would have been 90 this May 26, got away with so much and lived as long as he did.
Gangsters don’t know what they are getting into when they decide to mess with Miles. He is fearless limping with a gun into offices where he demands money.
Cheadle’s Davis didn’t say much. His vocabulary is his silences. Observant, his boxing bag which hangs in his study—seem to typify Davis’s readiness to knock an opponent out—his enemy (hubris) similar to Macbeth’s . . . imagined, yet real, a presence so great he seems to never feel safe.
Actress Emayatzy Corinealdi’s “Frances Taylor” dances into Miles’s on a summer breeze. We don’t know much about the beautiful woman; no one even says that the person driving Miles when the couple first meets, is Max Roach.
Impulsive Davis hallucinates. His hip is deteriorating and he is on pain meds. Maybe this was why he was forgiven?
The medication just exasperates a situation his personality seemed inclined to exploit. Davis remains an enigma, yet Cheadle’s film adds a bit of light on a man whom to know him, one seems to have to step into a darkness his soul occupies.
Davis’s rages were constant and well-known; however, Frances loves him and it is something he recognizes like King Macbeth recognizes such in his Lady Macbeth – this thing that hearts do, “bend and break,” even when their paths diverge and part; even when he realizes that she was his strength and anchor.
Directed by Don Cheadle, written by Cheadle and Steven Baigelman, “Miles Ahead” (100 mins) a Sony Pictures Classics release, is MPAA rated R for strong language throughout, drug use, some sexuality/nudity and brief violence. It opens April 8 at Landmark Embarcadero in San Francisco, and April 15 in other Bay Area theatres.