Posts Tagged ‘Trumbo’

A pet project of the now veteran actor Don Cheadle, Miles Ahead is the ten-years-in-the-making “biopic” of the legendary Jazz musician Miles Davis. Much like Davis’s approach to his “Jazz” music (a term he didn’t care for personally), this film is more of an impressionistic series of sketches, to build up a characterised idea of the man himself.

As such, the film largely plays like a suspended, drug-addled daydream, drifting between the cocaine infused “present” of New York, 1979 – four years after Davis’ last public performance and release – and the early 60s where he married his wife Frances Taylor and experienced racial profiling by the police.

The atmosphere Cheadle creates in both his performance and direction suits the narrative well. While there is no real indication how true, or false, anything that is happening here is, the film does provide an excellent insight into being a legendary figure in an art-form which isn’t bound by rules or conventions; this translates into Cheadle’s film-making form.

Miles Ahead turns in some excellent performances from its ensemble cast, including the always excellent Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Steve Jobs, Trumbo), as well as the up-and-coming Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12) and Emayatzy Corinealdi (Middle of Nowhere) as the aforementioned Taylor. Meanwhile, Ewan McGregor brings the film some star-power as Rolling Stone reporter Dave Braden.

Reportedly, the project took so long largely due to funding issues, with Cheadle this past week explaining at the Berlinale how he had to write in a white co-lead role, in the form of a dutiful Ewan McGregor, just to get studios to back the film.

While this is a shameful reflection of the state of Hollywood filmmaking (and the perception of the film’s audience), McGregor’s naive, shaggy-haired reporter (who interestingly retains McGregor’s natural Perth accent), is expertly handled by Cheadle’s direction. It would have been all too easy to mishandle this invented character, but McGregor approaches the role with the right balance of subtlety and professionalism – even when his character borders on being the comedy buddy role – to avoid being an unwelcome visitor to the set.

So while Miles Ahead is by no means perfect, it does provide an interesting insight into the great Davis, celebrating his music while simultaneously questioning the integrity of his character; particularly his relationship with wife Frances and drug addiction. It is a quiet reminder than the biopic needn’t be an overblown show-pony, but can be an art-form of its own when properly realised – Cheadle does that here with some real class.

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Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 12.50.06Kicking off the 2016 edition of Glasgow Film Festival last night was The Coen Brother’s new romp Hail, Caesar! their ode to the Studio System era of 50s Hollywood. As to be expected with the Coens, they deal with their subject with an equal amount of love and cynicism, looking at the “Golden Era” of their craft with a healthy dose of post-modern irony.

As is now customary with the Coens, the brothers direct a star-studded ensemble cast in their lighthearted love-letter to a bygone era, excellently re-creating the studio lots of Capitol Pictures. Binding the multiple simultaneous projects together is Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) the studio’s fixer who solves the various problems of the studio’s cast and crew, as well as batting away questions from scoop-hungry twin sister journalists, both played by Tilda Swinton.

Nearing the climax of the studio’s production of their “premier picture Hail, Caesar!” however, central star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears on an assumed “1 or 2-day bender”; though the party line is that he has a “high-ankle sprain”. In actual fact, Whitlock has been kidnapped, in a scheme actualised by a couple of extras on the set of the film, and taken to a strange place where nothing is quite as it seems.

Although they set the film up a potential road-caper, The Coens don’t, in fact, focus merely on Whitlock’s disappearance, but also the studio’s “the show must go on” attitude, in spite of adversity due to a tight schedule and budget. While Mannix is aware of the problem and its severe nature, it doesn’t suddenly jump to the top of his priorities list in his daily roles, as he must keep various other stars and directors happy with their own problems, while also considering a highly lucrative and much more comfortable job offer of his own.

This is when the film is at its best, showing the rather manic Studio System as it churns out its latest epic, western, drama and musical, all the while needing a cool pair of hands at the centre of it all (Mannix) who – while clearly respected within the studio – has no elevated status, which is reserved for the “key talent”. While Mannix doesn’t seem to mind this, he does battle his own personal demons and Catholic guilt, with a secret smoking habit and a tempting job offer. Despite this he is a seemingly decent man who genuinely loves and respects his family.

Brolin plays the, on the face of it, controlled Mannix with aplomb, and is excellent as lynchpin for the entire picture. While Clooney and other star cameo turns (Johannsson, Tatum, McDormand, Swinton) are all highly enjoyable, the film simply wouldn’t have a leg to stand on without Brolin.

The trouble is that the film as a whole fails to really capitalise on the wealth of talent on offer. While it is highly entertaining, there is nothing here that really sticks with you for much longer than the screen-time. There is plenty of humour and enjoyment to be found in the Coen’s faithful recreating of 1950s Hollywood, including an exaggerated nod to the blacklist and “Communist threat” of the era – playing at times like a twisted version of the recent biopic Trumbo – yet the film doesn’t dig much further than that.

While this isn’t necessarily a problem given the Coens have largely made a career out of films where nothing really happens, or works, it equally is that expectation which befalls Hail, Caesar!. Any fans of the brothers’ work can find various re-treadings of ideas they’ve done before and much more successfully.

For instance, the setting and ideas on display here are also in the masterful Barton Fink, the comedic road movie caper in The Big Lebowski, the kidnapping trope in Fargo, the theological considerations of A Serious Man. These films explored their central ideas very successfully and while Hail, Caesar! is clearly more light-hearted fare, one can’t help but feel that we’ve been here before and in more entertaining circumstances.

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