An Amazon Studios Picture, Written by Kemp Powers, Directed by Regina King.
One Night in Miami (2020) takes place on the night of Feb. 25, 1964, in Miami, as Cassius Clay joins Jim Brown, Sam Cooke and Malcom X for one night only. They discuss the responsibility of being successful Black men during the civil rights movement, their differences and similarities, and the impact all four of them may have on the world going forward. Kemp Powers adapts the film from his own stage play of the same name, and it serves as the directorial debut for the Oscar winning actress Regina King.
Telling a fictionalised version of a night that very possibly took place, this film is able to use real events and personalities to create a compelling story about a key period of time in history, and make a narrative packed full of emotions and conflicts between four very different men, who also shared many more similarities than they knew.
The film is an actor’s showcase, and all four actors are superb, embodying these instantly recognisable icons in their own way, and still managing to work effectively as an ensemble. The film is at its best when the four men are all bouncing off each other, with sharp dialogue and specific points of view. It’s tough to really separate them out but Aldis Hodge probably leaves the smallest impression, through no fault of his own, just due to the fact that Jim Brown is a much more understated character than the rest. Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X and Leslie Odom Jr as Sam Cooke are the two performances that are generating the most awards buzz, and rightly so, as they are the central dramatic driving force of the film, and it is their sparring mentalities that really provide the emotional heft of the film and allow for the real conflict. Both men are superb and are deserving of the attention they get.
However, for me the stand out performance comes from relative newcomer Eli Goree in the role of Cassius Clay, who would later become Muhammed Ali. Many films have been made about Ali, often covering a more wide-ranging amount of his life, but here we see a young Cassius at his most charming and arrogant, and also at a crossroads when deciding what to do next with his life. Surrounding him with these iconic figures allows for some fascinating character progression and Goree is able to bring real energy to the group dynamic, and his line reading of “why am I so pretty?” is one of my favourite line deliveries of the year.
The film isn’t perfect, as I do feel that it is close to just being a filmed version of the staged play, which is an issue that often occurs with these types of adaptations. However, if they changed too much then you would have lost the real magic, which is these four icons interacting for two hours, and it is understandable why they made the decision they did. Another thing that slightly holds the film back is the tough balancing act it has to walk by being a fun story about these four icons meeting, as well as delving into really important societal issues that are on its mind, and at times the film feels like it is struggling under the weight of this balance, but in the end manages to mostly pull it off.
This is a really assured directorial debut from Regina King, who has already established herself as one of our finest actors, and I really cannot wait to see what she does next behind the camera. Not everything in this film works, but it is a really fun watch all the same, and seeing four Black icons portrayed in such an authentic way is incredible to see. Especially now that it is streaming on Amazon Prime, I would encourage everyone to check out Malcom X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Cassius Clay meeting up for One Night in Miami…
Rating = 3.5/5