One Night in Miami review – a compelling film

December 25, 2020
M.N. Miller 0
Amazon Prime, Film, Film Reviews
4

Summary

Regina King’s One Night in Miami is an absorbing and entertaining film.

4

Summary

Regina King’s One Night in Miami is an absorbing and entertaining film.

It’s a tall feat to depict four larger-than-life figures on the screen and make them believable. That’s the fine line you have to balance and there’s always the danger of falling into caricatures. This might be One Night in Miami’s greatest strength; you have four actors playing extraordinary men and all of them inhabit their roles so fluidly you forget you are watching a performance on screen. That may sound obvious, but it’s a rare thing.

Regina King’s absorbing and entertaining directorial debut of Kemp Powers’ one-act play smartly casts lesser-known actors, none of them stars, which allows the viewer to get lost in the film’s compelling, dialogue-driven scenes. Powers’ play is fictionalized and his adaptation imagines a world in which these four larger-than-life African-American figures argued opposing ideals about an issue where all are striving for a common goal.

Placed after Cassius Clay’s (Baller’s Eli Goree) championship fight in, well, Miami, Clay puts up spiritual advisor Malcolm X (Noel’s Kingsley Ben-Adir) at a hotel to meet after the fight. X, Jim Brown (Brian Banks‘ Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Hamilton’s Leslie Odom, Jr.) are all ringside to see the champ defeat Sonny Liston.

Each actor gets their chance to put their spin on bringing and representing an aspect of the city’s solution (or depending on how you look at it, the problem). Cooke is the most successful, business-wise of the group, which Jim Brown recognizes as a strength, while Malcolm resents his prosperity from playing the game. Brown is a true leader, who goes his own way, recognizes how important Cooke is to the cause, and has a plan for life after football. Clay is in his transformation into Muhammad Ali under the tutelage of Malcolm; is he a selfless spiritual advisor or using Clay’s immense fame to his political advantage?

This all leads up to some extraordinary scenes at work in King’s film; a couple of real jaw-droppers that include a powerful shift in tone involving Hodges’s Brown and wide-eyed, yet short-sighted, admirer played by Bo Bridges. The context of Odom’s rendition and incarnation of Cooke’s most famous work is a showstopper.

Then there is Ben-Adir’s turn as Malcolm X. He is extraordinary here as the troubled and conflicted Islamic leader. His scene confronting Odom’s Cooke on the virtues of his songs, compared to a white man’s words that say more than all of Cooke’s discography, is where Miami gets cracking. It’s a performance, in any other year, that would be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination, but I’m sure will be left out of one of the most crowded Best Actor fields in a decade.

For all of the film’s strengths, there is one large issue. It’s an actor’s showcase and many scenes feel independent of one another. This gives the viewer the feeling it is all leading up to something to tie it together, but that moment never comes. While, yes, the source material is one act, that doesn’t mean the adaptation needs to follow the same path.

Still, any stage quality and lack of cohesive ending it may lack don’t compare to its high concept drama of four great men arguing, debating, and navigating the minefield of the 60s civil rights movement. Regina King’s One Night in Miami is absorbing and entertaining filmmaking that’s worth your time and attention.


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