Four legends in a hotel room together: Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke – what is the result? A phenomenal film that is immensely engaging, provocative and surprisingly hilarious. Director Regina King and screenwriter Kemp Powers are firing on all cylinders in One Night in Miami, for they’ve made one of the most poignant and interesting stories to be told this year.
Having premiered at the Venice Film Festival, the buzz began spreading around Regina King’s feature directorial debut and rightfully so, it’s remarkable. Based on Powers’ stage play of the same name, One Night in Miami is a highly effective courtroom thriller that can be related in terms of structure to Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men. It takes a rather confined approach, in that nearly every moment takes place in the one location, but makes it wonderfully dynamic. Much is owed to the brilliance of its central four leads, the quartet are an unstoppable group that are surely bound for award season accolades.
Everything begins as Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) prepares for his World Heavyweight Champion fight against Sonny Liston. After a historic success, Clay and his three close friends gather at the Hampton House Motel in Miami. Those friends are Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr). A night of provocative conversation occurs as Clay prepares to announce his transition to Islam to the world.
The film’s words are full of impact, the conversations had are fascinating and work perfectly as contradicting ideas clash. While being both contemplative and thought-provoking, the film manages to balance tones perfectly with its sharp sense of wit. I haven’t laughed as hard in a long time and that is a testament to the craft behind One Night in Miami.
Beautiful colors litter the production design and while the cinematography doesn’t offer anything revolutionary, it acts as a nicely shot counter-balance to the power of its narrative. Rather controlled and more-so observational in style, it somehow allows the actors to delve into such intimate moments of spiritual and ideological conflict. Not to say beauty isn’t there, but unlike The Hateful Eight, its cinematography is more like 12 Angry Men in that it’s well-shot but not overly extravagant. The combination of its production design, costumes, direction, and writing brings the period-setting to life in a thorough fashion.
Excellence is delivered by the group of actors, portraying a beautiful group of friends. Eli Goree is magnetic, his portrayal of Clay brightens up every moment. He is clearly the focal point to one’s engagement, while Kingsley Ben-Adir brings realness and vulnerability. Hamilton alumni Leslie Odom Jr. brings his all as the spectacularly talented Sam Cooke, he truly embodies Cooke’s presence and gets to shine dramatically in belting the finest of vocals. Additionally, Hodge is brilliant as Jim Brown who acts as a sort of mediator to the sidings of the debates had.
One Night in Miami is phenomenal. It’s written with the sharpest wit, while being extremely provocative and meaningful. What will surely be one of 2020’s defining films, this is not to miss.