AND SOME OF THAT JAZZ
Cheadle crackles with charisma in otherwise pat biopic about musician Miles Davis
Musician biopics are possibly the most actor-y of films. So much depends just on matching the charisma of our musical icons that most of them rely on little else.
I Saw the Light uses Tom Hiddleston’s solidly rooted take on Hank Williams to just meander through the peaks and valleys of the country star’s life. It’s less a movie than a series of re-created scenes, which would probably be more damnable if it weren’t the standard approach to these things.
Don Cheadle’s vanity project Miles Davis biopic — besides playing the man, Cheadle wrote and directed — at least has the courtesy of trying to match some of the restlessness and verve of its subject.
More an interpretation of Davis’ life than telling of it, it follows the jazz man during one of his rare creative lacunas: the late ’70s, where the blow is more likely to be in powdered form than on a trumpet, and Miles is faced with being more a legend than an artist, even though he muddles on.
The imagination comes in what happens: This is basically a chase movie, with Miles and a shady reporter (Ewan McGregor) eager to write his comeback story racing to recover the tape of his latest album, lest that dastardly record company try to go and release it.
Pock-marked with car chases and gunfights — sometimes at the same time — it seems to want to suggest Davis is passionate enough about his artistic vision to do anything to keep it pure.
The conceit is both overstated and not really that sharp an analogy, but Cheadle the director and screenwriter is at least sharp enough to keep the camera kinetic and give us enough breath to meditate with him on a master.
When he isn’t rushing around New York looking for drugs or shady promoters, Miles is a broken thing, twisted by regret at lost love and haunted by his future self, the only Miles Davis anyone seems to see.
His reluctance to release anything seems to stem from his inability to live up to his past self, whether that means a man who might truly love somebody else or just a musician whose next album was eagerly anticipated, as op- posed to a dutiful bow on a retirement tour.
Everywhere he goes, he is reminded of what he was — captured maybe too succinctly in the recurring image of the album Someday My Prince Will Come, which features his wife Francis on the cover. And now he can’t quite figure out what he is now, other than a guy who wants another bump and to be left alone.
Purpose comes in the form of getting the tapes back after a young musician lifts them during a party, Davis spurred on by the journalist who is eager to see some of the old Miles in the new. It’s all a little too pat, though, reducing Davis rather than expanding on him, simplifying him to a driving impulse.
Credit where it’s due, though: Cheadle at least keeps him crackling with charisma from couch to car seat.
Leave it to an actor to make himself a great role.
… It seems to want to suggest Davis is passionate enough about his artistic vision to do anything to keep it pure.