One Night in Miami…
Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Lance Reddick
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… a terrifically deft piece of cinema whose limited scope gets widened with larger-than-life characters that not only represent their individual burdens, but also carry with them the historical weight of their actions.
Oscar-winning actress Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk) makes her directorial debut with a politically charged adaptation of a stage-play in One Night in Miami… She fictionalises a single night whereby Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Cassisus Clay and Sam Cook gather in a hotel room circa 1964, amidst the height of racial prejudice within America.
The film spends its early stages establishing how these four characters are navigating career crossroads in a society beset with racism. On the one hand, these vignettes gently ease into the story, establishing contrasting personalities, while offering a playful and hopeful mood that softens the intensity of their plight. They also function to humanise the characters, as the film showcases Clay’s witty repartee with his boxing team, while Cook jokes backstage about “bombing” at his gig at the Copacabana. This, in turn, allows them to exist without being defined by their struggles.
Although the approach feels potentially wayward as it jumps from scene to scene, it is sharply brought into focus through a dramatic shift that narrows in on a single night. All four civil rights luminaries are brought together at a hotel room to celebrate Clay’s surprise win against Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight champion.
While all characters are bound by the same cause, ideological tensions fizzle to the top as the weight of their collective and individual responsibilities become overbearing. On the one hand, the self-serious Malcolm X castigates Cook for pursuing a music career built on commercial success, rather than staying true to the cause. However, similar to Cook, Jim Brown prematurely retires from football in favour of an acting career, exemplifying their beliefs that financial independence is the only way to achieve “true freedom.”
The performances all round are exceptional, with understated deliveries that ensure the real-life figures are never caricatured. Eli Goree as Clay displays trademark quick-witted charm mixed with bombast as he leaps onto hotel room beds. Yet, the spiritual re-birth into the nation of Islam lingers for Clay with quieter moments of praying that foreshadow his political activism as Muhammad Ali. Not only this, Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown has a reserved demeanour whose anger is repressed underneath lacerating remarks, such as “you’re acting in private the way you are on camera” when disparaging Malcolm X’s obstinance.
One Night in Miami is a terrifically deft piece of cinema whose limited scope gets widened with larger-than-life characters that not only represent their individual burdens, but also carry with them the historical weight of their actions.