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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: One Night In Miami (2020)

One Night In Miami is a fictional account of a real night - four iconic African American figures meet, discuss and challenge their parts as influential, successful black figures within their community and the Civil Rights Movement.

The year is 1964: Cassius Clay is in the process of becoming Muhammad Ali as well as upsetting the boxing world by defeating Sonny Liston to become World Champion, Malcolm X is in the tricky stages of leaving The Nation of Islam, singer-songwriter Sam Cooke is questioning his place within the industry, and NFL superstar Jim Brown is exploring a potential movie career. All these figures spend a night in a hotel room, watched over by The Nation of Islam, celebrating Clay’s quick rise to the top.

As mentioned before, this happened. They all met up and celebrated accordingly, but creative liberties have been allowed for scribe Kemp Powers to really explore the importance of each individual’s bigger part in each other’s story as well as their own. Adapted from the same play he wrote, Powers gets to explore further outside the confines of the single room setting of the play. Although this is minimal in detracting too far away from the original structure and experience, he manages to give the film practical context and allows for the characters to flourish even further.

Although the lead up to the eventual center-piece of the film had me a little underwhelmed in terms of structural set-up and somewhat clichéd tropes, the film really begins to flourish when we arrive at the hotel setting. This is where the spirit of the play and the true essence of what makes One Night In Miami so special and pivotal comes into focus. Whereas most of the first act felt like standard, by the numbers set-up, it quickly conjures important discussions that enrich our thoughts on each character and their part to come in the next chapters of their legacy. The conversations have been dramatized, yes, but seeing each iconic figure engage in fruitful and potentially life-altering conversation is a wonderfully insightful proposition for the curious viewer. It portrays these myth-like figures as human beings going through the black experience in America: racism, prejudice, and adhering to the white expectations they’re trying so hard to break free from.

Regina King is one of the great acting titans working right now, and her feature debut as a director showcases her methods in performance detail and blocking – with clear intentions and motivations of each character driving the film forward. It’s all in the script, but it takes the strength of a good director to be able to clearly draw and even blur the lines of where each character’s piece of dialogue and action need to take them in terms of both story and eventual character arcs. It’s all part of the big picture and her ability to distinctly manage these expectations elevates her to an ideal 'actor’s director'. Seeing where she goes post One Night In Miami is massively exciting.

Performances from the entire cast are exemplary. Eli Goree brings a cockiness and young naivety to Cassius Clay, who begins to grow more anxious and uncertain about his role going forward – settling into the role with ease the deeper we get into his character. Aldis Hodge’s “strong silent-type” character of Jim Brown is perfectly accentuated by his naturally robust presence, providing a more emotionally stable anchor for each of the other players to draw from. Tony award-winning Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke brings his truly jaw-dropping talent as a Broadway superstar to the forefront of the film, creating a complex character who is constantly challenged by Malcolm X, generating strong doubts in his mind and eventual legacy as an iconic musician and performer, and as mentioned before. Odom Jr. delivers an incredible rendition of “A Change is Gonna Come” that only he could’ve done with the emotional strength and weight that the song demands.

The big talking point of One Night In Miami is Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X. Of the entire cast, he is receiving the most buzz come awards season, and it really is easy to see why. He brings a level of intimacy and humanity to such a strong and as mentioned before, myth-like figure, that we don’t often see. Often seen and portrayed as the stereotypical “angry black man”, Ben-Adir shows an empathetic, fragile, kind, uncertain, and human side to him that is often done away with in content about the man. Like Washington’s towering performance as him in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, you completely forget that this is an actor portraying him. Everything from his voice to mannerisms creates a convincing portrait of the man, and thankfully the content of the script and the strength of Ben-Adir brings his character to memorable life.

Regina King’s directorial feature debut is an important piece of work that works as a wonderful companion piece to 2020's Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Both films follow the fictional reimagining of real people, both are adaptations of single location plays and both films create entirely necessary and essential discussions of race in America and black identity - bringing it to mainstream audiences that need to hear it. Come awards season, expect a multitude of well-deserved hype for One Night In Miami and expect to see more of Regina King’s continual rise through the stratosphere.

You can now stream One Night In Miami everywhere on Prime Video.

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