A stylish and promising debut from Regina King at the helm “ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI” is a fascinating watch with King working in close collaboration with Kemp Powers to adapt his own play to the screen with a story that pits four iconic figures and their beliefs against one another. The film is set mostly at the Hampton House, a motel in Miami’s Brownsville neighborhood and was one of only a few places for Black entertainers and celebrities to stay while performing at the swanky clubs and hotels of the then segregated Miami Beach.
After Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) wins the World Heavyweight Championship from Sonny Liston in Miami, he meets up with Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), all legends in their own right, to discuss their individual roles that they can play in the civil rights movement amid the upheaval of the 60s. Clay has promised Malcolm X that he will embrace Islam and change his name to Muhammad Ali the next morning. Ali/Clay’s boxing career had reached new heights, but he was barred from Miami Beach due to Jim Crow laws at the time, but he also unaware that Malcolm has just broken ranks with Elijah Muhammad, the national leader of the Nation of Islam at the time.
Introducing each of the characters in their everyday vocations as Cook is a hugely successful singer although he seems to be struggling with being accepted across the board i.e., by white audiences, Brown is a famous NFL player, but he’s also just had a taste of movie stardom and likes it, the soon to be Muhammad Ali is the World Heavyweight boxing champ and Malcolm X is a minister and one of the biggest leaders of the Civil Rights movement at the time. The struggles they faced in being black men sets the film up for a rather powerful main act where they discuss how they can use their positions of varied success to be heard during the civil rights movement.
This film has a dash of ironic, humorous moments which serve it well, because a good chunk of the film is a bit intense and lags at times with the rhythm getting bogged down for a few scenes, but there are some lively moments, especially revolving around musical performances. The acting by the four leads though is what kicks this film up at least ten notches as they give it their all, even though their were a few times their personas felt a bit pushed and character-ish. It’s so very difficult when an actor portrays a real person though all of them found a fine balance within their performances. Leslie Odom Jr showed off his singing chops, Ben-Adir gave us a talkative beautiful Malcolm X, Goree gave us all the ‘float like a butterfly – sting like a bee’ he had, but my personal choice was Aldis Hodge’s portrayal of Jim Brown, especially as Mr. Brown is still the only member here still alive. Hodge captured him as I someone who supported his friend, yet was also moving in the direction of ‘going Hollywood’ at time when not many men of colour had that opportunity. I think my only beef is the female co-stars Joaquina Kalukango as Betty X and Nicolette Robinson as Cooke’s wife Barbara, got the short shrift here with a scarce amount of lines, but then it is a story about the four men so on the other hand, it makes sense. Add in the wonderful Lance Reddick, Michael Imperioli, Beau Bridges in supporting roles and you’ve got yourself kicking up more notches up to round out this film. The production design, costumes, and soundtrack were beautiful and having said that, there are parts of the dialogue which are genuinely stirring.
‘One Night in Miami’ is an absorbing & entertaining film about the power of these men who while having some conflicting ideals, are really all striving for the same common goal.
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Review screening: Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR
“ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI” IS OUT IN SELECT THEATERS WHERE AVAILABLE AND COMING TO PRIME VIDEO ON FRIDAY, JANUARY 15, 2021