Review: 'One Night In Miami' offers impressive, entertaining look at four Black icons
Courtesy of Amazon Studios
Having earned a fair share of Emmy’s and recently polished an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, Regina King is showing impressive feats behind the camera in “One Night in Miami,” an adaptation of Kemp Powers 2013 play (he also wrote the screenplay). The movie, like the play, dramatizes what happened behind closed doors during a February 1964 meeting at the Hampton House in Miami between civil rights activist Malcolm X, world heavyweight champion boxer Cassius Clay, singer Sam Cooke and football/rising movie star Jim Brown.
There’s been wild speculation about what occurred during this momentous evening, but nobody knows exactly what was said. The night was marked by Clay’s stunning defeat of Sonny Liston to become champion of the world. After the fight, the four icons squeezed into a hotel room during the midst of a social and political uprising. Powers, using a litany of research at his disposal, takes educated guesses as to what these men discussed, and it results in some hot debates and an entertaining motion picture experience that couldn’t be more topical.
And though Powers takes creative liberties with the material, some of his script is guided by fact. For example, the next morning Clay would announce he’s joining the nation of Islam and changing his name to what most people knew him as: Muhammad Ali. At the same time, Malcolm X was distancing himself from Islamic belief and Brown – an influential figure in the Civil Rights Movement – was forging a new career path on the big screen, going on to star in that year’s big western hit: “Rio Conchos.”
Of the quartet, Brown is the only one who remains alive. Malcolm X was slain one year after this night, Cooke was shot dead in 1964, and Ali died in 2016 at the age of 74. British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir makes the role of Malcolm X an interesting figure despite cinematic interpretations of past offering their own takes; Aldis Hodge – last seen in the terrific “Clemency” and equally great “The Invisible Man” – is a lively Jim Brown; Eli Goree is transcendent as Clay, narrowing down all mannerisms and vocal inflections to deliver an uncanny interpretation. But it’s Leslie Odom Jr’s Sam Cooke that melts the room. Cooke - who tried to appeal to white audiences across the nation with his universally beloved voice – went on to become a huge beacon in the Civil Rights Movement – and Odom Jr’s rendition of “A Change is Gonna Come” is a stunning achievement and King’s effective use of the anthem is further prove of how gifted she is at telling stories.
As the title suggests, this film takes place over the course of one singular evening that has many ups and downs, but we all walk out feeling the same motivation. King allows the movie to stand on its own and offer a brief glimpse into the livelihoods of these four historic figures. If Cooke and Brown were to get the biopic treatments, like their counterparts Malcolm X and Ali, it would be criminal not to cast Odom Jr and Hodge in the roles. Each actor interprets these men in unique ways that spending “one night” with them isn’t nearly enough justification. When that day comes, hopefully Regina King is behind the camera reminding the world she’s still a queen. This is her world, and we’re all just living in it.
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI opens in select theaters Friday, December 25th and debuts on Amazon Prime Video January 15th