By Mark Saldana
Rating:4 (Out of 4 Stars)
Talented actress Regina King makes an impressive directorial debut with this film adaptation of writer Kemp Powers’ play of the same name. One Night In Miami serves as a fictionalized take of a meeting that took place in 1964 when boxer Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, activist Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke, and football star/actor Jim Brown met in a motel room where they discusss the problems Black people face in America. Based on each person’s life experiences, the gentlemen share a night of sometimes heated discussion and bickering, but each person leaves this night all the better for this experience. It is a very insightful and intimate film that examines various facets of the Black American experience.
On the night that Cassius Clay wins the boxing heavy weight championship from Sonny Liston, and at a time when Clay seems ready to make the conversion to religion of Islam, Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) requests that Clay (Eli Goree), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) meet with him, so that they can discuss future plans to empower Black Americans. Under the guise of a celebration party, Cooke and Brown agree to join Cassius and Malcolm in a small, and not-so-glamorous motel where they plan to party in honor of Clay’s victory. As everyone arrives, it soon becomes apparent that the meeting isn’t simply an excuse to cut loose and blow off steam, but that Malcolm has a definitive agenda in mind. He wants to meet with Black America’s successful celebrities in hopes of recruiting them for his cause.
This proves to be an initially awkward and later most emotional evening, as each Black man has some strong opinions and feelings regarding the plight that has kept Black Americans shackled and silenced for so long. Even though each person has a different take on the civil rights movement and how their freedom can be achieved, they all discover that despite their differences, they each would like to see some of the same goals and achievements made for Black Americans to advance in the United States.
With a screenplay by playwright Kemp Powers (Soul), Regina King has made an extraordinary movie with One Night In Miami. Solidified with insightful and astute character development, the film gives a very personal glimspe into the struggles that each remarkable celebrity faced to achieve their rises to success. While the movie is dialog driven, much like the play probably is, King shows great skill in making the scenes feel very organic and real. It truly is an outstanding adaptation of a play that rarely feels like one is watching a play on the screen.
In keeping with the big personalities they represent, the phenomenal cast performs accordingly. Eli Goree has the beautiful swagger and superbly captures the vocal cadence of boxer Muhammad Ali. As Sam Cooke, Leslie Odom Jr. shines charismatically and smoothly, but also gives audiences a more passionate glimpse at the singer when he is at a more emotional level. As Jim Brown, Aldis Hodge not only sounds like Brown, but also gives the celebrity a more reasonable and intelligent demeanor. I know all of this sounds wonderful, so far, but the real star of the film is Kingsley Ben-Adir who gives a tremendous turn as Malcolm X. Not only does he portray the activist as a strong-willed, opinionated figure, Ben-Adir’s skills beautifully reveal a more tender, vulnerable side of a man struggling to maintain a courageous persona.
One Night In Miami is definitely one of my favorite movies of the year. It celebrates both the amazing public personas of these historical figures with all of their courage and strengths, and also realizes that they are and were real human men with fears, weaknesses, and flaws facing opposition and racism. The movie opens in theaters January 8, 2021 and will be available for streaming on Amazon Prime on January 15, 2021.