Film Review: Taking In ‘One Night In Miami…’

by Ben Martin

Veteran actors stepping behind the camera to direct is not a new phenomenon. However, few of these actors-turned-directors make much of an impression. Folks like Clint Eastwood (of the upcoming Cry Macho) and Ron Howard (Solo: A Star Wars Story) are rare exceptions. In contrast, most others who make such a transition in crafts from cast member to helmer to be perfectly competent at best. The latest actress to try her hand at direction is the ever-talented actress Regina King (Watchmen: The Series). Now, King’s name might not immediately ring a bell, but if you’ve watched any amount of movies or TV in the last two decades, you’ve seen King in something, and I guarantee she made an impression. Well, it turns out that King’s just as talented behind the camera as she is in front of it as she undoubtedly falls into that rare exceptional category with her feature-film directorial debut, One Night In Miami… 

Inspired by actual events and based on the play of the same name by Kemp Powers (Star Trek: Discovery, Soul), who also penned this screenplay, this film is a fictionalized recounting of a seemingly simple but significant night of February 25th, 1964, in Miami, Florida. Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) has just defeated Sonny Liston to become the world’s heavyweight boxing champion. The champ decides to celebrate, albeit simply and soberly. Following the bout, Clay, along with his closest friends (and icons), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) retreat to a motel room for an evening of fun and camaraderie. However, as the evening wears on, the gathering becomes more serious as the men begin to examine not only their friendships with one another but their respective and vital places in the Civil Rights movement.

Being someone who appreciates history, I knew I wanted to see One Night in Miami…; however, I was also just a bit hesitant to watch it. After all, 2020 was heavy, and I, like many others, spent most of it in a quarantine of sorts since last March. Thus, I was wary of watching a film that primarily takes within the comfy confines of a motel room. Thankfully, however, my fear of being overwhelmed by confinement was quickly overcome as One Night in Miami… sucked me in on every level. King, along with cinematographer Tami Reiker (The Old Guard), this film’s production and art design and set decoration team’s create an atmosphere you can both see and feel. The picture’s warm picture palette is very welcoming and settles you into the proceedings within minutes. So much so that soon enough, I went from feeling like a guy watching just another movie to being a fly on the wall inside a Miami motel room on a hot and sticky night back in the ’60s.

A large part of my feeling so immersed in this picture went beyond its atmosphere and is mostly thanks to the impressive cast of character actors-turned-leading men featured here. These gentlemen are so good in their roles that I sat there like a fly in the motel room; they went from actors merely playing historical figures to people who fully embodied these historical figures! Yes, I know that’s a bold statement, especially considering Denzel Washington’s definitive performance as Malcolm X in Spike Lee’s 1993 biopic joint about the Civil Rights activist. And, Will Smith’s turn as Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali in Ali back in 2003. However, I feel that both Adir and Goree go toe-to-toe with the actors who’ve portrayed these folks before them.

Then there’s Jim Brown and Sam Cooke, who, to my knowledge, have yet to receive the full movie biopic treatment. (Although, the real-life Brown has acted in many movies.) But, if they ever do, I’d recommend that whoever cast these potential biopics have Hodge and Odom Jr. reprise their roles. If at least one of these actors does not receive any nominations come next awards season, that’ll be a low-down, dirty shame.

I realize not all audiences will share the same penchant for dialogue-driven films that I have. After all, the pacing of movies driven by character conversations is more demanding of the viewer than your action-packed blockbuster. As a result, One Night in Miami… does occasionally lull, and when it does, you can feel its pacing. But, thankfully, these moments of slowness are rare and fleeting as the film’s subject matter quickly overcomes them. Of course, the subject matter focuses on the Civil Rights movement, race, and division among people. Sadly, these topics are more relevant than ever today, particularly in America. 

Hence, why this movie deserves, possibly even needs be seen. Historically based movies like this one can help remind us to learn from history’s mistakes and stop repeating them. Beyond all that, this picture stresses the importance of unity, which we could all stand to keep in mind, particularly during these turbulent times. Even if One Night in Miami… doesn’t sound like your jam; I recommend you give it a go because King and all involved have delivered one of the best movies of the year!

One Night in Miami… is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime & playing in Limited Theatrical Release. 

 

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