“One Night in Miami”, which was released on Amazon Prime in last week, humbly and thoughtfully presents a fictional account of one night meeting among four prominent real-life African American figures in the 1960s. Regardless of how much it is actually close to whatever happened among them on that night of February 1964, the movie is often compelling as closely observing the clashes of strong personalities and opinions, and it is also supported well by the uniformly strong performances from its four main cast members.
During the opening part set in 1963, the movie succinctly establishes its four different main characters and their respective current situations. While Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), who will be later known as, yes, Muhammad Ali, is rising toward the World Heavyweight Championship, Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) has been going through the peak of his professional American football career, and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) has also been enjoying considerable success as a popular musician, but, as African Americans, they all face racism one way or another. In case of their friend Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), he has fought against racism for years as one of the most prominent members of the Nation of Islam, but now he is considering leaving the Nation of Islam after frequently clashing with its leaders, and his dear wife is certainly concerned about that for good reasons.
The movie subsequently moves forward to February 25th, 1964, when these four men come to Miami, Florida for Clay’s title bout against defending champion Sonny Liston. After Clay’s surprising win over Liston during that evening, Malcolm takes not only Clay but also Cooke and Brown to his room in a modest hotel for African American folks, and his friends are not so pleased to learn that Malcolm wants to have a little serious time with them instead of celebrating Clay’s victory.
As four friends who have known each other for several years, these four guys seem to be willing to talk casually about anything, but the mood subsequently becomes more serious as Malcolm and Cooke come to clash over their different viewpoints. When Malcolm argues that Cooke does not use his artistic talent and influence enough for racial equality and other social justices, Cooke is not so pleased to say the least, and their following argument makes Clay and Brown nervous and awkward from time to time. While Clay, who was recently persuaded to convert to Islam by Malcolm, comes to have more doubt on his religious conversion which will soon be announced in public by himself, Brown comes to wonder whether he should be more serious about his possible acting career in Hollywood, and that certainly gives some amusement to his friends.
As the mood among them goes up and down more than once along the narrative, the screenplay by Kemp Powers, which is based on his acclaimed play of the same name, continues to generate sharp and witty moments from the dynamic interactions among its four main characters, and director Regina King, who has been mainly known for her distinguished acting career full of good performances including an Oscar-winning supporting turn in Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018), did a commendable job of presenting these wonderful moments well on the screen. Although it sometimes shows its inherent stagy aspects, the movie seldom feels stiff or stuffy thanks to King’s competent direction, and we come to pay more attention to nuances and details observed from her four talented main cast members.
As having each own moments to shine, the four main cast members in the film are effortless in their ensemble performance. Considering Denzel Washington’s unforgettable performance in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” (1992), Kingsley Ben-Adir certainly had considerable risks and challenges right from the very beginning, but he is flawless in embodying his character’s fierce intelligence and charisma, and he is complemented well by the relatively more laid-back performance by Leslie Odom Jr., who has a couple of terrific moments for utilizing his well-known singing ability later in the story.
Compared to Ben-Adir and Odom, Eli Goree and Aldis Hodge are less showy, but they are also another important parts of the movie. While Goree ably moves back and forth between his character’s confidence and vulnerability, Hodge functions as a stable background for his fellow main cast members, and I also enjoyed the brief appearance of several notable performers including Lance Reddick, Michael Imperioli, and Beau Bridges.
The movie is the first feature film of King, who previously directed several TV drama series episodes before that. Although the overall result may look rather plain and modest on the surface, it is apparent that she really cares about the story and characters, and she surely demonstrates here another side of her talent. As a first-class performer, she certainly knows how to handle her cast members, and the four main cast members of the movie do deliver as much as she trusted them.
On the whole, “One Night in Miami” is a very engaging drama thanks to its skillful storytelling as well as its fabulous ensemble performance, and you will be entertained enough even if you do not have much background knowledge on its four real-life figures. You will surely see these dudes are indeed interesting people, and you may want to know more about them after the movie is over.
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