This one time at band camp… Wait, that doesn’t sound right. When four iconic larger than life individuals are in the same place at the same time what it would be to be a fly on the wall in that room. Based on the stage play of the same name by Kemp Powers, One Night in Miami is the doctorial debut of the talented actress Regina King. With a win over Sonny Liston, Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) spends his night celebrating in Miami with Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), Malcom X (Kingsley Ben-Adit) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge).
Set up by Malcolm, in 1964 in Miami, the four legendary black icons spend their night reluctantly at the motel Malcolm is staying at. He insists that it will just be the four of them to celebrate the accomplishments of the four men. As the night progresses so does the tension of the conversations. Even with the massive egos in the small room, the four men check them at the door showing a side of each other most people have never seen before.
One Night in Miami is powered by its four strikingly accurate performances. Not one outshines the other, but the inspirations of Will Smiths Ali and Denzel’s Malcolm is made abundantly clear with the resemblances by Eli Goree and Kingsley Ben-Adit. Regina King is able to balance each character where no one is focused on more than the other. Each character has his moment in the spotlight showcasing the crossroads each man is currently facing in their lives. Clay beating Liston made him the boxing star that was promised and catapulted him into the next stage in his career. Boxing isn’t the only thing Clay has his focus on, he is on the verge of converting to the Muslim faith. Jim Brown, the legendary Cleveland Browns running back is contemplating an acting career over football. Sam Cooke had one of the worst performances of his career in front of an all-white audience at the Copacabana and Malcolm is nervous about his standing within the Muslim religion.
“I am two hundred ten and a half pounds of trouble, boys. And what they didn’t know was when they weighed me in, a half pound of it wasn’t even me.”
Cassius Clay, later changing his name to Muhammad Ali is one of if not the most charismatic individual to ever live – Eli Goree pulls off the charisma in a way that pays homage to the champ instead of playing him inauthentically. Leslie Odom Jr. gives a powerful performance as Sam Cooke who isn’t afraid to defend himself when attacked. Aldis as Jim Brown is more stoic and reserved who brings a calmness to the group. It can be difficult to differentiate Kingsley’s Malcolm from Denzel’s, but Kingsley makes Malcolm his own. He brings that sense of fear Malcolm had and utilizes it in his performance. Each actor easily gets engulfed in their respective characters – at certain points in the story it’s difficult to distinguish where the actor’s performance ends and the real life person begins.
Even with the egos mostly in check, there is still the possibility of conflict. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a story to tell. The possibility of this night although fictional isn’t too far-fetched if you really think about it. Part of the conflict between the men stems from Cassius having second thoughts about converting. The main conflict, however, is between Sam Cooke and Malcolm. Their head butting starts off slowly with mostly friendly banter mixed with not-so-subtle harsh shots at each other’s character. As the night proceeds so does the two friend’s resentment towards each other. Even with the argumentative nature of these men, cooler heads will always prevail.
Stage play adaptations are an intimate affair. Just like with the August Wilson adapted Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the use of a limited set highlights the comfortable setting. Regina King does a spectacular job of capturing the intimacy a stage play provides. Mostly set in a single hotel room, the film still has a lot of room to breathe within these four walls and these four giants in life. With the continuing pandemic and closure of the theater industry even watching a film of this caliber gives off the emotion of a theater setting. Sometimes the best films are the ones where its characters are just in a room talking to each other. The conflicts arise internally instead of outside events in a dialogue heavy film. The dialogue isn’t boring either, Powers screenplay keeps everyones attention without trying too hard.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, we do, Brother Sam. Just because I’m militant doesn’t mean I don’t know how to have a good time.”
One Night in Miami takes its time to get going. Setting up four legends takes time but it’s time worth spending. For the most part majority know who these men are prior to seeing the film. Their backstory don’t need to be focused on allowing for the story to be explored immediately. The first act sets up the situations that bring the four men to Miami. Once the main conflict is established, the film hits the ground running at a more reasonable pace in the second and third acts. The slower set up isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the slow burn pays off in a satisfying manner.
No topic of conversation is off limits. Much of the conversation can be related to the world today as it does in 1964. The focus is mostly on religion and the civil rights movement and what each icon has contributed to the movement. Malcom accuses his “Brother” Sam of not doing enough for the culture, that he sold out to the white man. Sam arguses that he has done so much for black creators – he owns the rights and masters of his works which is a big deal in the music industry. Sam’s passion is fueled by the accusations by Malcom which pits the two against each other. Even as the arguments heat up, the two friends never lose sight of the bigger picture nor lose the respect for one another. King understands the character dynamics and uses the actors in a unique way to play to that strength of Powers screenplay. The chemistry between the four men is intense that provides the foundation for this film to capture the spirit of each character and their one-of-a-kind personality.
One Night in Miami is the ultimate fantasy dream of a what if scenario. What four historic icons can we put in a room together that would provide a fascinating story that also has a mix of tension involved. Actress turned director Regina King has a strong debut feature that juggles these four personalities flawlessly in an intimate setting. The first act takes its time to get its legs, but the pace provides a slower lasting burn that drives home the main conflict. If I were to rate One Night in Miami, I’d rate it a 4.5 out of 5.
So, tell me, have you seen One Night in Miami and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think.
One Night in Miami is directed by Regina King is Rated R and has a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. One Night in Miami was released in a limited capacity on December 15, 2020 and streaming on January 15, 2021 and has a runtime of 1 hour and 50 minutes. One Night in Miami can be streamed on Amazon Prime.