Don Cheadle’s directorial debut also finds him playing the lead role as Miles Davis in, what could be termed, his wilderness years. At times the film feels as if it is trying too hard to create something of the impressionistic nature of Davis’ best music but at other times the whole thing coalesces into something quite cohesive even if it feels the film tries to say a lot without saying very much at all.
Unfortunately much of Cheadle’s good work is almost undone by an over enthusiastic Ewan McGregor as a fictional Rolling Stone journalist Dave Braden out to get the scoop on Davis-laughably dubbed ‘The Howard Hughes of Jazz’- troubled times and new recordings which his public has been eagerly awaiting for five long years. At first I thought McGregor’s all over the place accent was a bad Scots impersonation of an American one and then it transpired that his character was in fact Scottish which means it became a bad impersonation of Scottish accent from a native Scot! The accent aside McGregor was as unconvincing as ever and a particularly jarring note in an otherwise well executed film.
As I said before the story focuses on Davis’ wilderness years- the early to mid seventies- but it has flashbacks to his earlier successes, the beginnings of his marriage to Frances and the subsequent breakdown of said marriage as his career, womanizing and drugs took hold and pushed the relationship into the background.
The main story itself seems to focus on Davis’ troubled relationship with his record label who desperately wanted some new product to sell and other dodgy opportunists who steal said unfinished product from Davis’s home during one of his many impromptu parties. At this juncture the film degenerates into predictable farce with shoot outs and car chases all to little effect.
In fact the main thing which holds this film together is Cheadle’s exceptional performance and Davis’s music, which at certain points articulates certain scenes better than any dialogue ever could.
Admittedly I have only started to appreciate Davis’ music over the last few months and although I love ‘A Kind Of Blue’ and ‘Sketches of Spain’ I am still struggling to get to grips with ‘Bitches Brew’ although there is enough there to tempt me back for repeated listening. I don’t know whether that could be said of this film which aims high often and gets there but then lets itself down again.
It was also hard seeing this the day after the news of Prince’s death broke. It was perhaps easy and a little too convenient to see something of the troubled genius in Davis and somehow relate it to Prince although they had nothing in common apart from their exceptional talents, originality and longevity in a notably fickle music scene.