Regina King, a known presence in both film (If Beale Street Could Talk) and TV (Watchmen), directs her first movie, One Night in Miami… with obvious passion but without much visual ambition. She leaves that to the actors and the historic, African-American personalities they portray.
Screenwriter Kemp Powers (Soul) adapts from his own play, elaborating on a Floridian meeting of the titans: political leader Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), soul singer Sam Cooke (Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr), NFL player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and the heavyweight champion known then as Cassius Clay (Eli Goree). They’ve all gathered to celebrate the latter's victory over Sonny Lister in 1964, preceded by slightly superfluous snapshots of their lives.
Left to right: Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). Photo: EPK.TV/Amazon
The times are rolling into some kind of change while contradictorily keeping stuck in the same place. The paradox is captured perfectly in a shocking moment – one that actually benefits from King’s repressed style – where Jim Brown visits a wealthy white man who’s cordial and charitable but, it transpires, thinks with a segregational mindset. Racism with a kind smile.
The meeting of the four takes place in a Miami motel room, co-ordinated by Malcolm. Jim and Sam are disappointed by the lack of party atmosphere: there are no women and there's no alcohol, in accordance with Malcolm’s religious beliefs… and those of Cassius, too. The only provisions are boxes of vanilla ice cream.
After the friendly greetings and delicious compliments, the dialogues turn uncomfortable and later hostile after Malcolm brings up the Black cause. He’s understandably stressed by the possibility of being killed, looking over both shoulders as he leaves the room. Though Ben-Adir is inevitably overshadowed by Denzel Washington’s definitive portrayal in Spike Lee’s biopic Malcolm X, he delivers the man’s strength as beautifully as the fear running beneath it.
The lengthy dialogues cloud the action: unfurling like an allegorical lecture on America’s cultural history. This can be absorbing in itself, especially as Sam explains his diverse business model that caters toward white audiences, while also ensuring a decent cut for Black musicians. But he knows he hasn't written anything as good or as profound as Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind. Not yet, anyway.
Jim Brown acts as a calm mediator between the sparring Sam and Malcolm. He comes out with such startling truths that they’re worth rewinding and watching again and again, Hodge delivering them with such a knowing calm.
But Goree as the future Muhammad Ali outdoes them all. He bursts with an ecstatically watchable presence: youthful, arrogant and charmingly smug – bouncing around the room like a sugar-high toddler. The film also shows Cassius converting to Islam after encouragement from Malcolm, and his doubts at leaving secular pleasures behind.
Each catalytic performance carries you through, but two hours is too long for a premise so contained. Even though there’s plenty to like in One Night in Miami…, the film stretches a cool moment in history to a stagey experience that's more symposial than dramatic.
One Night in Miami... is available on Amazon Prime Video on Friday 15 January
|What||One Night in Miami, Amazon Prime review|
15 Jan 21 – 15 Jan 22, ON AMAZON PRIME
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