One Night in Miami Review: An all-around powerhouse of directing, acting, and dialogue
As an actress, Regina King has earned wide-acclaim for over 20 years and even earned a well-deserved Oscar back in 2019 for her stellar performance in If Beale Street Could Talk. As a director, King has sort of flown under the radar while directing episodes in shows like Southland, This is Us, Scandal, Shameless, and Insecure. Now with her feature directorial debut, One Night in Miami, King showcases her ability to soar to new heights behind the camera.
The film, based on writer Kemp Powers’ stage-play of the same name, depicts a fictional account of Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Muhammed Ali (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) discussing their roles in the civil rights and cultural movements of the 60s while in Miami. Like director George C. Wolfe with Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, King’s direction gives the film a reminiscent stage-play feel. She utilizes mirrors and small settings to make the more conversational nature of the film shine and the dialogue pacing and line delivery have this great rhythm to it that makes it incredibly engaging. It’s really one of those stories you could literally see being played out on stage and it makes for a more authentic and intriguing viewing experience as we see these iconic figures at an interesting point in their lives.
While the achievements of these four pivotal African American figures are well-known and have a legacy of their own, One Night in Miami sees them on the cusp of major turning points. Muhammad Ali still goes by Cassius Clay as he become the world heavyweight champion, Jim Brown is changing career paths from being an NFL star to a movie star, Sam Cooke is starting to rise as a musician and producer, and Malcolm X is going through major life changes as his civil rights activism makes him a target for the FBI and he readies to leave the Nation of Islam. These four simply coming together would be enough to make this story, even if fictitious, momentous, but the film showcases on the cusp of being something more and perfectly sets the stage for these four to have groundbreaking discussions on race and their roles in the civil rights movement.
With each of them having different experiences in their respective fields and Malcolm X and Cooke being on totally opposite ends of thought, there’re a lot of personality clashing that leads to some eye-opening thoughts. There’re more over-arching conflicts between Malcolm X and Cooke about white-washed mainstream success and their roles as inspirations to the black community as well as personal struggles of Clay wrapping his head around joining the Nation of Islam and Brown opening up about the turmoil within the black community that stems from a difference of light-skinned/dark-skinned treatment. It’s a meeting of the minds that viewers to see these prolific figures in a more personal light and challenge each other in ways that create engaging conflict and flesh out their respective experiences. Throughout the entire experience, you can feel yourself getting wrapped up in the conversation and hanging off every word because of how powerful and relevant it is to today. Also, the performances are so unbelievably perfect that you’re instantly drawn to the film.
Honestly, this film might be the definition of perfect casting because these four are absolutely brilliant from start to finish. Ben-Adir expertly evokes the philosophical thought and influence of Malcolm while adding in elements of family, self-understanding, and even fear to make you connect to the iconic figure on a uniquely deep level. Goree utilizes the youthful arrogance of Clay to create a lighter performance full of charm and even brings a nice personal struggle that’s easy to connect to as Clay determines his future with joining the Nation of Islam. Hodge really captures the stoic presence of Brown well and his monologue about his own experience to Malcolm X truly commands the screen. Odom Jr.’s performance as Cooke easily is the most impactful though as he expertly displays the pain that Cooke hides in trying to make it big and his performance of Cooke’s iconic song “A Change is Gonna Come” is a perfect endcap to the film. It’s might be a small cast of four under-recognized talents, but these four give it their all under King’s direction and, truthfully, all of their powerful performances are award worthy.
One Night in Miami is essentially one of the most powerful and engaging fanfictions ever conceived with how it brings together the experiences of four groundbreaking black figures to create poignant and relevant discussions on race that are elevated through Powers’ deep script, King’s great direction, and four lead performance that embody the minds and souls of the icons they’re portraying.