review: one night in miami
Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir, and Aldis Hodge in One Night in Miami (2020)
Based on Kemp Powers’ award winning play of the same name, One Night in Miami is an outstanding stage-to-screen adaptation brilliantly directed by Regina King. The clarity and attention to detail King brings to her film gives an immensely talented ensemble cast wonderful moments to shine. Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X), Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown), Leslie Odom Jr. (Sam Cooke), and Eli Goree (Cassius Clay, who’d soon take the name Muhammad Ali) each step into iconic roles of cultural significance and take a grounded leap of inspiration. They deliver such remarkable performances and together help create an immersive ‘fly on the wall’ experience. King’s directorial debut is incredibly dialogue-driven with a focus on inner personal conflicts and the heightened responsibilities each of these men feel in representing Black voices. Kemp Powers brings his original stage play onto the screen through compelling conversations and urgency.
One Night in Miami is a fictionalized account inspired by a night in 1964 where Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Cassius Clay gather in a hotel room after Clay’s championship win over Sonny Liston. While the city of Miami celebrates, the four men are in deep discussion with each other. Working with a limited number of sets as the majority of the film takes place in one room, Regina King does a phenomenal job establishing a sense of place. Her direction is seamless and works wonders with the pacing of this story. There is so much room for the performances and the words to truly soar through how the actors play off each other. The film shines as a dialogue-based story, and the conversations are absolutely riveting to watch from start to finish.
Prior to bringing the men together, King and Powers first establish where they are in terms of setting and timeline. The early moments in the story are so insightful to each of the men’s lives beyond being historical figures, and what we see at the beginning of the film plays out through their conversations in the hotel room (particularly with Malcolm and Sam Cooke). All four men have contrasting positions regarding their power and the weight of the responsibilities that come with it. One of the most engaging relationships in the film is between Malcolm and Sam Cooke; their electric conversations set the stage for two particularly remarkable moments, a flashback to Cooke’s impromptu performance and the stunning ending sequence.
Regina King’s seamless direction, in collaboration with a talented ensemble cast and Kemp Powers’ compelling screenplay, give One Night in Miami a continuous energy. The film takes a little while at first to gain traction, but King’s storytelling at the beginning adds another layer to the hotel room setting that follows. The actors carry the conversation forward with remarkable fluidity, each working so well together and delivering what are easily some of the most resounding performances of recent years.
One Night in Miami releases January 15th on Amazon Prime Video.
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