History is a concept that obviously spans the entirety of existence. Any moment, no matter how small or large, can be considered historical in some manner or fashion. History becomes set in stone, and the truly memorable moments become immortalized in textbooks, art, and more. And so, One Night in Miami… brings forth another historical moment that is so astoundingly cool that it seems impossible. Four of the greatest minds of the time coming together and sharing a night of discussion in the height of their respective careers and lives? With her debut film, Regina King portrays icons of both pop culture and civil rights in this film based on the play written by Kemp Powers.
Malcolm X. Cassius Clay. Jim Brown. Sam Cooke. In 1964, these were some of the biggest names on planet Earth. Even now, they are remembered for being icons in their respective fields, and in a stroke of divine brilliance, they shared a night together in Miami celebrating the victory of Clay over Sonny Liston. While the actual details of this film and the play it is based on are somewhat fictitious, this night did really occur, and the ramifications of it can still be seen (or heard) today, as well as the messages presented still being sharply prevalent to society in 2020.
It seems irrelevant to try and compare these four icons and the impact they had on their fields and history. They are all so massively talented that to imagine what went on in that small hotel room seems otherworldly. And luckily, this film was able to pull actors that could rise to such an occasion, and lift up the film to soaring heights that would bring justice to those they were respectively resembling. While all four parties involved have a moment in the spotlight, and there are even scenes where duos are split off to allow deeply introspective commentary, it seems as if Malcolm X is the crux of this film. Powerfully portrayed by Kingsley Ben-Adir, viewers are shown the loud and brash side of Malcolm, but also the sides of him that were never public. For this night took place at a time of massive upheaval in his life, where he was fearful for the safety of himself and his loved ones. It’s hinted at throughout the film, and comes as no surprise to those who have read his story, or are at least familiar with his life. Whether the film should have delved a bit more into this inner conflict is difficult to say, because it’s a film about the larger picture, so in that regard, it succeeds.
As Cassius Clay (soon to be Muhammad Ali), Eli Goree brings the wit, charm and charisma that the boxer was so well known for. Aside from his raw physical presence, he nailed the most important part of Ali. That even with the whole rest of the world in front of him, he was still a young man with his own important outlook on life and civil rights, the importance of using one’s abilities for greatness, and even seeking help and guidance when necessary. Even his fight scenes looked great, and for King to shoot them so smoothly in her debut should be equally applauded. Aldis Hodge plays the part of Jim Brown, considered by many to be the greatest football player who ever lived. While I can’t say I know anything about football, Hodge’s performance of Brown certainly sold me on wanting to learn more about the player. He plays very well off of Goree’s Ali, as they seem to have the same outlook on aspects of life, while also being at wildly different points in their respective sports careers. It makes for a very interesting dichotomy that is a peak of the film in my opinion. He is a force to be reckoned with if need be, but once again, it’s the more introspective moments that really sell how great of a performance this is.
And lastly, there is Leslie Odom Jr. picking up the microphone as the great Sam Cooke. If anybody in this film can be said to be the supporting actor to Ben-Adir, it’s surely Odom Jr. And what a performance it was. Maybe it’s my love for Cooke’s music, but I do think his arc throughout the film is my favorite, especially taking that ending into consideration (which is absolutely perfect). His performance just highlights Cooke’s massively influential career and talent, as well as displaying the power one voice can have over people. The way it’s exemplified in the final third of the film is so beautifully handled that it wiped away doubts on whether or not the film was working for me. The film does have some valleys it dips into, but when One Night in Miami… is working, it’s working very well and seems almost effortless.
As far as debuts go, this is a considerably strong start for King. She clearly shines and shows off her talent behind the camera as she tends to do so in front of it. And with a story that is so crucially important, it’s no surprise she handles it with a graceful hand. It’s never overtly melodramatic, but instead displays genuine moments of reflection through real life icons. To break down four superstars and highlight their impact on history is a difficult task, but the film does so not by breaking off into four distinct stories, but instead bringing all their stories into one room, and crafting brilliance from one of the many possibilities that could have occurred within. The message of this film is one that should surely speak for itself, and in a time of such turmoil and injustice, it’s a film that is not only entertaining due to the charismatic performances within, but one that is crucial in using the power of ones voice to bring forth change by any means necessary.
One Night in Miami... will be available to stream on Prime Video on January 15th.