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‘One Night in Miami’ is an intimate celebration of Black icons

‘One Night in Miami’ is an intimate celebration of Black icons

‘One Night in Miami’ is an intimate celebration of Black icons
January 23
13:05 2021

“This ain’t about civil rights. They ain’t giving Black people what they really want.”

“What’s that?”


On Feb. 25, 1964, Muhammed Ali (Eli Goree) becomes the world heavyweight champion after defeating Sonny Liston. That night, he gathers in a hotel room with three friends of equal renown: activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), footballer legend Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), the King of Soul. While the celebration begins friendly enough, tensions rise between the four as they debate whether or not they have done their part for Black communities, what they owe them and what they could and want to do with their power.

Based on the stage play by Kemp Powers, “One Night in Miami” is the first film from actress-turned-director Regina King, coming off a string of directing episodes for television. With an impressive ensemble cast and an acclaimed play at her disposal, how does King fare in her big-screen debut?

Phenomenally. “One Night in Miami” is not only an excellent big-screen debut from King but a showcase for the awesome powers of its all-star cast and a masterclass in overcoming the limitations in bringing a small-scale play to the big screen.

When it comes to the monumental task of portraying four men who were demigods in their respective fields, all four major players bear their burdens admirably. Eli Goree absolutely nails the arrogant charisma of pre-transition Ali, contrasting his awesome ego with quieter moments of introspection and camaraderie with his friends. As Malcolm X, Kinsley Ben-Adir convincingly resurrects X’s fire and brimstone authority while mixing it more intimate concern. He may not entirely be on Denzel Washington’s level, but he brings his A game nonetheless.

For Sam Cooke, Odom Jr. not only delivers in his charm and confidence but his singing as well. He also provides the best foil to Ben-Adir’s Malcolm X, while the most level headed is Aldis Hodge’s Jim Brown. He probably gets the least focus of the four, but his portrayal is no less complex, a man who wields enormous potential power in the NFL but has also grown dissatisfied with it. Again, each performer excels, sliding into their roles like a hand into a glove.

King’s direction also deserves plenty of praise. To my knowledge, the play is set almost entirely within the hotel room, but King expands on it. She also keeps the camera close to the actors, emphasizing a more claustrophobic style during arguments and pulling out during calmer, more jovial moments. Also in the film, she makes good use of a bathroom mirror to further explore her characters’ inner turmoil.

She shows a strong understanding of shot composition and distant scenery, fully immersing the audience in 1964 Miami and the zeitgeist of the era. She not only manages her cast well, she creates some gorgeous scenery as well.

Adding to the intimacy is another classy score from jazz master musician Terence Blanchard. While his work here felt considerably more subtle than past efforts, he still hits the mark and leaves no doubt as to why he’s considered a master of his craft.

If there is any criticism, I do again feel Aldis Hodge could have used a bit more expansion. While Hodge is very charismatic and gets a great one-on-one with Ben-Adir’s Malcolm X and the others, his personal life is the least explored. Even his film career, including his role in “The Dirty Dozen,” is only given a brief nod aside from a conversation regarding tokenization.

The women in their lives do not get much focus either, aside from maybe Betty X (Joaquina Kalukango). Then again, Regina King did refer to the film as a “love letter to the Black man’s experience” in an interview. Still, Malcolm X’s family life had already been covered more thoroughly, so it would have been nice to explore those of the other major players.

Everyone is at the top of their game with “One Night in Miami.” Tight, nuanced direction from King combined with a stellar ensemble make for one compelling exploration of Black masculinity and power. With whispers of Oscar potential, the cast will have legs this award season and King will be one director to keep an eye on.

Final rating: 4/5

Featured image: Courtesy Amazon Studios

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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