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Sketches of Pain

Brian Douglas/Sony Pictures Classics

Miles Ahead (2016)

The Miles Davis biopic “Miles Ahead” seems less a treatise on the jazz trumpter’s enduring artistry and legacy than a showcase for its star-director-co-writer, Don Cheadle.

It singles out the period during which Davis was reclusive, disabled, drug-addled, paranoid and seemingly past his artistic prime. Ewan McGregor plays Rolling Stone writer Dave Braden, apparently a composite character, who tries to pin Davis down for an interview to herald his comeback but winds up helping him score a hit of an entirely different kind.

There’s next to nothing on Davis’s musicianship and creative process. Instead, we get lots of him acting like a crazy ol’ fool. Even the flashbacks focus on soapier aspects of his turbulent relationship with his muse and ex-wife, dancer Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi), that quickly deteriorated into infidelity and domestic violence, rendering the racial injustices he endured a mere footnote.

Having worked with many a great American auteur like Steven Soderbergh, Paul Thomas Anderson, Carl Franklin et al, Mr. Cheadle has indeed picked up a thing or two about deftly managing a nonlinear story line. He’s also very, very fortunate to have the Davis estate grant him access to the catalog. Still, the finished product feels more like an acting reel for next year’s awards season than a legit biopic like Clint Eastwood’s “Bird.”


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