A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Miles Ahead is a biographical drama about legendary jazz trumpeter/bandleader Miles Davis. Written, directed by, and starring Don Cheadle, the drama flashes back and forth between the final year of Davis' hiatus from the music industry and his career two decades earlier, when he was recording for Columbia Records with Gil Evans, performing with his quintet in New York City, and falling in love with Frances, a dancer. Expect a lot of strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "a--hole"), as well as substance use/abuse (heroin, cocaine, alcohol), partial nudity (bare breasts), a threesome, and some violence (a police attack, domestic abuse, and gun violence) -- all of which makes this movie best for mature teens who already know something about the jazz icon.
What's the story?
MILES AHEAD is a biographical drama about legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. It stars Don Cheadle, who also co-wrote and directed. The movie begins with Davis' interview with journalist Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor), with Davis on the verge of reemerging from a five-year break from music -- what some call "the lost years." The interview triggers a flashback to the time when Davis was no more than a hermit, living in his Upper West Side brownstone with little more than drugs and drink to keep him going. Brill first got in touch with him then, pretending to be on assignment from Rolling Stone to find out why the King of Cool had stopped making music. During a strange, substance-fueled 24 hours together, Brill accompanies Davis as he takes a trip down memory lane, recalling his years recording with his quintet, wooing and marrying a beautiful dancer named Frances (Emayatzy Corinealdi), and -- in the present time -- squabbling with his impatient label reps.
Is it any good?
Like an improvisational jazz piece, Cheadle's portrayal of the ultimate icon of cool is daring and memorable, if not easily accessible to the casual fan. Miles Ahead is clearly a true passion project, with Cheadle impressively handling his multiple duties as writer-director-producer-star. He doesn't take a straightforward approach to the biopic. There are no shots of baby Miles in East St. Louis, or a well-known character actor playing his friend John Coltrane, or even a medley of his most famous pieces. Instead, Cheadle concentrates on the lost years in Davis' life, when he wasn't producing new material and spent his time getting drunk, high, or sad about his bad choices -- like mistreating the one love of his life, Frances.
The majority of moviegoers who aren't hardcore Davis fans may not glean many specifics about Davis' life other than that he was once attacked by an NYPD officer, he was wildly successful for his early collaborations (but then took a surprising five-year hiatus), he adored and then abused his wife, and that he boxed, drank, and did drugs. There's not a lot of character development, because Cheadle zooms in and out of mostly one day, with a lot of flashbacks. It's the kind of story that demands attention but can be frustrating unless you're all in, which is worth it just to see Cheadle's worthy performance.
Talk to your kids about ...
What does the movie have to say about the history of racism related to African-American artists? How have (or haven't) things changed?
Discuss the violence in the movie. Is it necessary to the story?
Does the movie make you interested in Davis' music or in learning more about him? Do you think it's true to how things happened in real life? Why might filmmakers choose to change some details in a movie based on fact?
- In theaters: April 1, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: July 19, 2016
- Cast: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi
- Director: Don Cheadle
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong language throughout, drug use, some sexuality/nudity and brief violence
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.