- Adam Carr
One Night in Miami (Review) 2021
"One Night in Miami" cornicles the night four of the leading African-Americans public figures in the sixties assemble after the Heavyweight title fight just won by Cassius Clay (Eli Goree). This fictional account of what happened in a well guarded motel room was adapted by Kemp Powers from his play of the same name. The attendees of that meeting was Clay, Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Malcom X (Kingsley Ben-Adir). What is imagined by Mr. Powers is the story of four influential men, all focused on the same objective, but divided over how to get there.
The film begins by setting up all four characters and where they are in their careers and society. Its bumpy at first and familiar faces pop up, Micheal Imperioli and Beau Bridges, distracting from the story. But once the characters and actors get into that room and the door closes the film crackles. Clay has decided to join the Nation of Islam and change his name. Malcom X is Clay's mentor and tries to keep him on a clean path. Cooke, on the other hand, is a care free artist who is open to everyone listening to his music. And Jim Brown bridges them together.
Mr. Goree has the toughest balancing act. He does an impersonation of Clay that, at first, is distracting. Mr. Clay, and later, Muhamad Ali, is such a distinct force that any actor taking on his role could easily take it over the top derailing the movie. But Mr. Goree is so smooth that after a couple of minutes we buy it. He is the only one who not only has to act but do an impersonation as well.
Mr. Ben-Adir's Malcom X is intensity infused with a sense of purpose that stands on uncertain legs. His portrayal takes a leader, known for reaching his goals "by any means necessary," and gives him an undercurrent of uncertainty making him human and completely absorbing. His disciplined approach to the "movement" is in contrast to Mr. Odom's Sam Cooke who has no qualms about performing and getting paid by white people. Their debates are the meatiest part of this work. And watching Mr. Odom and Mr. Ben-Adir square off is the best exhibition of two actors feeding off of each other in this young century.
Regina King helms "One Night in Miami" and her direction allows these four men the room they need to bring their characters to life. As an award winning actress herself she nurtured some stellar performances. What drives me insane when two legendary actors are put in the same movie, and "Heat" is the one that comes to mind, is that they are filmed separately. I want to see great performers acting off each other. Ms. King does a great balancing act. She's able to give each actor their close-up showing the passion for the mission. But the most fun comes when Ms. King pulls back the camera and we watch the talent spar on the screen together.
No one knows what these legends spoke about during their congregation. But I can easily accept Mr. Powers version of events. Four passions looking to bring their race equality but coming from four different directions. Being in the room with them and knowing how fate will play out for both Mr. Cooke and Malcolm X enhances their exchanges. Ms. King has given us a piece of cinema that gives us a peek into a corner of history and a front row seat to watch two heavyweight performances of the year play out.