One Night in Miami is a fictional account of a real night. February 25th, 1964. Liston vs Clay I. Adapted from the critically acclaimed stage play of the same name, the story follows four black American icons on the cusp of the biggest moments of their lives; Cassius Clay still considered an underdog in the boxing world would soon change his name to Muhammad Ali and become one of the greatest boxers of all time, Malcolm X would be assassinated the next year and his autobiography would be released posthumously, Jim Brown would retire from the NFL the next year and become an actor and Sam Cooke would release ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ before his death the same year.
The four men celebrate Cassius Clay’s title win over Sonny Liston in a small motel room. As each man ponders their own individual futures, conversations of civil rights and each man’s position and influence over the civil rights movement come to fruition and very closely come to blows at one point.
Although adapted from the stage, One Night in Miami is wonderfully blown up for the big screen. Its roots can be clearly seen throughout the movie, most notably through its use of one key location, but this is not detrimental to the film. Instead, it works as a reminder of the immense talents of Kemp Powers. Although a relative newcomer in both his stage and screen credits, Powers adapts his own work from the stage to the screen without losing what made the original stage play special. Despite the portrayal of personalities such as Brown, Clay, Cooke, and Malcolm X, One Night in Miami takes the task of portraying the icons through the public’s perception of each man whilst also portraying them all outside of their public persona. A difficult task given that those who see the film will be expecting their own image of the quartet, yet there is more to each than that. However, Powers’ fantastic script masterfully interweaves both sides of all four men so well that the transition is never noticed, all the while offering some of the best-written dialogue you will ever have the pleasure of hearing. Conversations between the four charismatic characters ranging from ice cream to music to civil rights. Each conversation and each line of dialogue is as fast-paced and witty as a Tarantino script, yet with a higher impact in what they are saying.
Kemp Powers may have written an excellent script (one that is worthy of the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar) but it was brought to life by the cast. Any movie featuring the likes of Malcolm X and Cassius Clay can’t work without a good cast and One Night in Miami offers up one of the best ensembles of the year. With relative newcomers Kingsley Ben-Adir and Eli Goree portraying Malcolm X and Cassius Clay, respectively, and the more experienced Aldis Hodge and Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr. as Jim Brown and Sam Cooke. All four men give the best performances of their careers, bringing Powers’ story to life and elevating the already brilliant script. Each performance is just as brilliant as the others and the chemistry between the four main characters is excellent. Not only does it make you believe that these four men were as good friends as the film implies, but it also draws the audience into their conversations and allows Powers’ dialogue to hit much harder.
While each performance is great, Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X stands out above the rest. Although there was controversy over an English actor portraying the American icon, it is clear that Ben-Adir was the best choice for the role and a top contender for the Best Actor Oscar. Bringing a quiet sensitivity to a man who is known for his outspoken ideas on the civil rights movement.
The screenplay and the cast, whilst both brilliant, can only carry the film so far. It is King’s direction that blends them together and creates the film that One Night in Miami turned out to be. King crafts an excellent chemistry between the four men that benefits the dialogue-heavy script, and her work as an actor more than likely played a large part in making the performances as excellent as they are. Besides this King’s vision for the movie is clear. A blend of stage and screen, with excellent blocking of the four main characters whose movements create a near-constant visual rhythm throughout. However, it is possibly her use of music throughout the film that stands out as possibly her most brilliant addition to the story. Her rare use of a score over the film, or licensed music, means that when music does appear its impact on both the scene and the viewer is much higher. An excellent directorial debut from King.
One Night in Miami is simple in nature. The camera work and editing style is not flashy and the reliance on one key location and heavy dialogue may turn some audiences away, but outside of personal tastes, One Night in Miami is simply flawless. King keeps the audience entertained throughout whilst also delivering an impactful message on the civil rights movement.
Dir: Regina King
Scr: Kemp Powers
Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr.
Prd: Jess Wu Calder, Keith Calder, Jody Klein
DOP: Tami Reiker
Music: Terence Blanchard
Runtime: 110 minutes
One Night in Miami is available to view on Amazon Prime now.