“Miles Ahead” showcases Don Cheadle as a filmmaker

Don Cheadle miles ahead

Last year at the New York Film Festival, I saw the fest wrap up with the directorial debut of actor Don Cheadle. It was the biopic Miles Ahead, a passion project of Cheadle’s that he’d been trying to get off the ground for years. It played at the Closing Night selection and had some awards buzz surrounding it, but no 2015 release date. Well, that turned out to mean something, as it never came out, opting instead for this early 2016 slot. Part of that might be due to the middling reviews at the time, but mostly it was just a function of studios having other priorities and this being an odd little title. It’s hitting theaters this week though, so it’s time to discuss it a bit more now.

Once again, here’s a quick primer on the film itself, which of course is a look at a moment in time for legend Miles Davis. Cheadle plays Davis mostly during a period in which he had receded from public life and wasn’t creating music. There’s flashes back to his more productive days and his time with love and muse Francis Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi), but most of the movie is spent with Davis as he stays home, bemoaning what he’s lost. There’s also time spent with journalist Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor), who attempts to get him out of his funk. In addition to Cheadle, Corinealdi, and McGregor, the cast includes Keith Stanfield, Michael Stuhlbarg, and more. Cheadle obviously co-writes and directs, in addition to starring, so it goes without saying that this was a passion project for him.

I didn’t find the flick to be fully successful, but Miles Ahead definitely does have a few things going for it, mostly in regard to Cheadle. While I thought the screenplay he wrote with Steven Baigelman, Stephen J. Rivele, and Christopher Wilkinson was all over the place and the weakest link in the chain by far (their decision to involve a car chase and shootout just didn’t work for me), his acting and direction are far better. It’s one of his best performances, while his choices behind the camera impressed me. This is a flawed work, but Cheadle is going to make a great film one day. He’s employed strong cinematography from Roberto Schaefer, solid music from Robert Glasper and Herbie Hancock (besides what Davis contributes or Cheadle does himself), and especially the creative editing on the part of John Axelrad and Kayla Emter. They both help Cheadle to come up with some inventive ways to incorporate flashbacks. It’s really quite impressive what they wind up putting forward in terms of that technical aspect. It stood out, even in a festival environment, and that’s saying something.

This movie continues the recent trend we’ve been seeing of musical biopics initially scheduled for 2015 releases being dumped in early 2016 with little to no chance of Oscar love. Now, Miles Ahead just plain isn’t good enough to be worthy of Academy Award consideration, but it’s just an interesting thing to observe. Perhaps I’ll come up with a longer think piece on this later on in the year? Who knows, but it is something that I wanted to quickly point out. Cheadle’s passion project is just the latest in this now long line of also ran biopics, and I kind of find it fascinating. It might not really mean anything, but I certainly made note of it.


Opening on Friday, what we have in Miles Ahead is an interesting little calling card by an actor turned filmmaker who could have a great career as a multi hyphenate ahead of him. I had my doubts that this movie would be a big contender, and that seems to have been validated, but anything is possible. It’s an intriguing effort by Cheadle, who is someone to watch as he hopefully continues to work behind the camera. I wasn’t blown away by this one back last year at NYFF and that remains today, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing if you’re curious, since it definitely has something to offer. You be the judge, but just now that it’s hardly a disaster, even if it does fail a bit more than it succeeds. Miles Ahead doesn’t lack for ambition though, that’s for sure…

Be sure to check out Miles Ahead, in theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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