One Night in Miami, 2020.
Directed by Regina King.
Starring Kingsley Ben-Adir, Aldis Hodge, Eli Goree, Leslie Odom Jr, Joaquina Kalukango, Nicolette Robinson, Lance Reddick, Christian Magby, Beau Bridges, and Emily Bridges.
On February 25th 1964 Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) beat Sonny Liston (Aaron D. Alexander) at the age of twenty two. That night in a room across town he met with friends Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr) and Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) to celebrate his victory.
This impassioned love letter to a pivotal meeting of minds marks an audacious entry into directing for Regina King. Adapted by Kemp Powers from his stage play it features some grandstanding performances, which embody genuine giants without scenery chewing. Introductions are concise, touchstone moments defined and each actor is given his moment to shine.
Trying to choose one performance over another here is impossible. Eli Goree’s Cassius Clay is a stream of consciousness creation which channels the spirit, actions and fallibilities of someone who redefined boxing. Meanwhile Kingsley Ben-Amir’s Malcolm X exudes an equilibrium which seemingly counterbalances the exuberance of his friend, prior to that Islamic conversion.
Elsewhere Aldis Hodge’s Jim Brown is a brooding presence who carries the weight of coloured expectations alongside white presumption, whilst tolerating universal persecution. Sam Cooke is the final piece in this puzzle and a man made up of numerous contradictions. Personified with an understated restraint by Leslie Odom Jr, he sits on the fence operating within both arenas essentially progressive in outlook.
What becomes immediately apparent is how fluid this adaptation really feels. Dialogue is sharp and incisive while locations might be limited, but a combination of different elements ensure things never feel stilted. Whether our four principals are pacing the floor of their motel box room, or breaking off for a moment to step outside Regina King keeps it moving. Elsewhere composer Terence Blanchard employs a languid jazz infused piano based score, influencing mood and allowing audiences to breath in the humid night air.
Discussions of racial conformity, blinkered generational ignorance and the part each man played in shaping our world is laid bare. Kemp Powers never spares the rod in his dissection of these issues through conversation, but also rarely uses these influential men to preach from a cinematic pulpit. Sam Cooke acknowledges the hypocrisy of his position but also demonstrates how such a position can be exploited. Although only twenty two it is our knowledge of Cassius Clay’s untapped potential and forthcoming achievements, which provide him with gravitas despite his tender years. Similarly Jim Brown uses his status to manipulate a system where power and celebrity can supersede colour and creed.
Then finally we have Malcolm X who was for many years the most politically feared public speaker of his time, as he extolled the virtues of Islam and black power. However, what both Kemp Power and Regina King do is humanise this seemingly religious zealot, revealing both the family man and passionately rational humanist beneath the public image.
Beyond the individual contributions of each man comes their legacy which keeps you watching regardless. To have four actors playing off each other but consciously leaving creative space for one another makes One Night In Miami shine. From start to finish the film possesses a swagger and self-assurance which comes from Regina King’s love for these characters. Production designer Barry Robison evokes time and place effortlessly making our journey through this snapshot in time effortless. It may be viewed as a topical heavy hitter with stadium sized personas in its leading men, but One Night In Miami remains low key, understatedly intimate and romantically bittersweet.
One Night In Miami has seats available to book now for Sunday October 11th and Monday October 12th at the BFI London Film Festival.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★