Much of this centered around his memories of his wife Francis. His drug use (both recreational and prescribed by doctors) caused him to drive her away, and sent his marriage into ruins. There were two scenes that were telling. The first was after he was beaten by the police in front of a club he was playing, after returning home, he tells Taylor to stop dancing. She is outraged by this, but eventually does so, to her eventual regret. This would seem to have been the beginning of the end of their marriage. But there was a hint at the catastrophe to come earlier in the story, after Davis and Taylor made love. She gets out of bed and, in post-coital ecstasy, begins to dance. Davis watches her a moment, then gets up, goes to the other room, picks up his trumpet and begins to play. The surface interpretation of this is that her dancing inspired this piece of music. But it’s possible that his gesture was a desire to escape any aspect of her that wasn’t focused on him. He couldn’t handle Taylor having or being something on her own.
In the end, while Davis clearly had no fear of man or beast, it was the fear of the uncomfortable truths about himself that drove him into darkness.
But the story has a happy ending. Expect no spoilers here. Suffice it to say that he emerges from his Dark Night of the Soul into a new inner and outer realm of both renewed musical genius, and something resembling inner peace.
All in all, Don Cheadle created a masterpiece. In addition to a brilliant job writing and directing, and a spot on and very believable portrayal of Davis, he also composed music for the film, and played some of the music himself. Cheadle’s background in music, writing, art, etc. served him well in connecting to the Davis character. We admire people like Miles Davis because their genius and controversial lives invoke an inner desire to be that person; but we rarely find the courage to actually do it. Cheadle invoked this in his portrayal of Davis, and imposes it upon every moment of the film, without losing either the vulnerability and struggles Davis lived with, nor the genius of musical vision to literally change the course of music several times, and the strength and drive to actually do it with amazing success.
Evan McGregor did an excellent job of being the “white sidekick to the black lead” (a rarity). He held his own throughout, and interacted beautifully with Cheadle. Stuhlbarg played the 1970’s stereotype sleazy record company exec to perfection. Stanfield’s supporting role as the talented but troubled musician / junkie / prey to Stuhlbarg’s predatory business tactics was solid (although there was little character development for Junior through the story: the moment he appeared, what you see is what you get). And Corinealdi’s embodiment of Taylor as a strong woman suffering in a terrible situation, and keeping her strength and dignity throughout was nothing short of brilliant.
The music, needless to say, was perfection. The original music Cheadle and others composed for the film held its own side by side with the masterfully placed original recordings of Davis’ music.
Miles Ahead is a very human story. It’s violent, tragic, funny in parts, and exhilarating in its fearlessness. Through all that, we are led through chaos to an end that’s filled with hope and the triumph of joy and dignity over pain and tragedy that is the essence of jazz itself.