MILES AHEAD is a wildly entertaining exploration of one of 20th century music's creative geniuses, Miles Davis, featuring a career defining performance by Oscar nominee Don Cheadle in the title role. In the midst of a prolific career at the forefront of modern jazz, Miles Davis (Cheadle) virtually disappears from public view for a period of five years in the late 1970s, his musical voice stifled and numbed by drugs and pain medications. Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor), a wily music reporter, forces his way into Davis' life and, over the next couple of days, the two men unwittingly embark on a wild and sometimes harrowing adventure to recover a stolen tape of the musician's latest compositions. Plagued by years of regret and loss, Davis flirts with annihilation until he once again finds salvation in his art.
Miles Davis is one of the best jazz musicians to have ever lived. His life in and out of the studio was well-documented and full of surprises, success, and downfalls. It all translated into his one-of-a-kind sound on each of his albums, and he became one of the top purveyors and creators of modern jazz. Actor Don Cheadle (‘House of Lies‘) is obviously a big fan of the musician, and personally financed and stepped into the writing and directing chair for this one, marking this project as his first directorial effort, as well as the star in this Miles Davis biopic titled ‘Miles Ahead‘.
Cheadle does an excellent job telling the story of Miles Davis, but it’s not your typical biopic fare. Instead of going the usual route, starting with childhood years, the discovery of talent, the success, the fall, then the rise again, Cheadle focuses on just a few years out of Davis’s life, specifically the latter half of the 1970’s where Miles really didn’t produce any music. In fact, he kept as a recluse in his New York home, doing drugs and drinking, rather than making any music. We get this unorthodox look at the trumpet player when a sly journalist named Dave (Ewan McGregor), shows up at Miles’s door and says he works for ‘Rolling Stone‘ Magazine to do a cover story on him.
Things don’t go too well when punches fly and noses are broken, but the duo seem to drive around together looking for drugs and trying to get money from the record company. Record producer Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg) isn’t too keen on giving what Miles Davis is owed, because of the rumors of an unheard session tape that is to be the next great album from him. Cheadle goes back and forth from the late 70’s to Davis’s earlier career and his marriage to Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi), as we get to see his descent into drugs and trying to control others.
It’s a fascinating way to show his transition and also heartbreaking. Most of the film though plays out like a buddy action movie with Cheadle and McGregor sticking together as they try to outrun drug dealers and record execs. It’s certainly entertaining to watch, especially watching Cheadle transform himself into Miles Davis. His body language and voice is spot on with the late jazz musician. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was nominated for an award later on down the road for this.
The set pieces are phenomenal as well, sometimes spanning several different decades in the matter of a few minutes. There are some funny moments between Cheadle and McGregor in their drunken and drug induced adventures, yet there are some key dramatic moments that are shown as well that put Davis on the path he chose so late in life. Cheadle pays a great deal of respect to Davis with ‘Miles Ahead‘, and is one of the better biopics in a while.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Miles Ahead' comes with a 50GB Blu-ray Disc from Sony Pictures Classics and is Region A Locked. There is an insert included that contains the digital download code. The disc itself is housed in a hard, blue plastic case with a cardboard sleeve. Six trailers play before the main menu pops up.
'Miles Ahead' comes with a 1080p HD transfer presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio. This video presentation is all over the place. It seems like from scene to scene, the detail and grain vary up and down the board. The opening shot of the film of Don Cheadle as Miles Davis is so crystal clear and sharp, that you can see every imperfection and pore in his skin, as well as every strand of his stringy hair. It looks phenomenal. From then on, things get fuzzy with varying degrees of grain throughout. Some scenes are sharper than others, but nothing is really as ever sharp as that opening scene.
It could be perhaps that the film takes place in the 1970's, and the filmmakers wanted to give the image that raw and unfiltered feel, but nothing is ever consistent in the sharpness or grain levels. Most of the film looks soft with a haze like quality to it. Colors look realistic and pop in that 70's fashion, whether it be the red and blue outfits that are on display or the browns that are Davis's house. There are some yellowish filters used throughout too. Black levels are deep and inky for the most part and skin tones are mostly natural. There aren't any major compression issues here, but the varying degrees of grain and sharpness make the whole video look soft.
This release comes with an excellent lossless DTS-HD 5.1 MA mix. The jazz soundtrack just fully encompasses and immerses you in the genius of Miles Davis' music. The music takes center stage throughout and sounds amazing. Every note and musical cue leaves a lasting impression and is crystal clear. The sound effects are robust and lively throughout too. The trumpet keys being pressed down and even the gun shots and car chase scene pack a punch.
Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow, even with the raspy voice of Miles Davis. There were no pops, cracks, hiss, or high shrills. The final scene of the film is a concert scene and the music of the band is just fantastic. Every instrument can be heard and has its time to shine. It's like listening to a live jazz show in your viewing room.
Audio Commentary - Writer/Director/Producer/Star Don Cheadle and co-writer Steven Baigelman discuss making the film, as they focus on how they shot some of the scenes, casting the actors, and a few tidbits of Miles Davis's life. It's a nice listen with some great information on the little details they used in the film and music.
The Truth: Becoming Miles Davis (HD, 21 Mins.) - Don Cheadle and some of the other filmmakers, including Miles Davis's son talk about bringing this passion project to life. The music, the real life details, and the actors are all discussed here and is quite entertaining. Most of this extra is in Black and White.
Sundance Film Festival Q&A (HD, 22 Mins.) - Don Cheadle and three other main actors in the film, including Keith Stanfield and Ewan McGregor do a Q&A at Sundance where they field audience questions. Some good information is revealed here.
Trailers (HD, 14 Mins.) - There is one trailer for the film itself and six other trailers for other films from Sony.
'Miles Ahead' is an excellent film that takes a look at Miles Davis during a particular time in his life. Instead of telling the entire life story of Miles, this film does something original and focuses on the time that Miles Davis didn't produce or make music, while showing the reasons and actions that led him to get to this harsh state of living. Don Cheadle nailed it here and the music is magnificent and the performances are out of this world. The video presentation isn't the best, but the audio track is fantastic with a few good bonus features. Highly Recommended!