Movie Review: One Night in Miami
One Night in Miami is a fictionalized version of a real event. Four Black leaders, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Cassius Clay, and Jim Brown, at a peak in their fame and influence meet after Cassius becomes the heavyweight champion of the world. They discuss, at Malcolm's behest, how best to use their fame and influence into furthering the cause of Black people and civil rights. Ideals and backgrounds clash, but the conversation is pivotal in the lives of all these men. The film stars Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Lance Reddick, Christian Magby, Joaquina Kalukango, Nicolette Robinson, Michael Imperioli, Lawrence Gillard Jr., and Beau Bridges. The film is directed by Regina King and written by Kemp Powers. The film is streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime.
Exceptionalism is a double edged sword. It comes with a privilege, fame, a platform, but very little power. One Night in Miami is about the attempt to bring that power to the forefront. These men are deciding that if the masses are willing to treat them as idols, they need to accept their whole selves, not just the parts that benefit those masses' agenda.
There is a scene at the beginning of the film in which Jim Brown is in the south visiting relatives. He's a huge NFL star, bringing fame and glory to his team. He's already considered one of the best players alive and maybe in the history of the game. He goes to a white man's house, Mr. Carlton, a friend to his family, and they're very friendly, chatting like old times, but as it's mentioned to Mr. Carlton that he needs to move some furniture, Jim offers to help the old man, but Mr. Carlton immediately, casually puts Jim off reminding him that they don't allow "niggers" in the house.
This scene is stark and it punctuates everything that Malcolm is trying to impart to his famous friends. I couldn't help reflecting on the opening Jim Brown scene. He's stoic, thoughtful, powerful and just as angry as the others, but he doesn't know that he's made up his mind yet. While the others waffle on what their next steps are, Jim is resolute, but he doesn't know how to put it to words yet. That is the genius of Kemp Powers' script.
The script sings with incredible passion, heart and humanity. Kemp Powers doesn't hold back and he gives each of the characters their chance to shine. The script has a delicate and powerful interplay of characters views and ideas. I love that each side is represented and sides that haven't been thought of are brought up. More than anything it's a brilliant examination of the arguments of assimilation and ascension for the Black community. Is it better to have an economic leg up or a philosophical leg up? It's a great script made better by incredible direction.
The way that Regina King is able to make this space even smaller or wider within a matter of moves is brilliant. Jim and Cassius are big men and Malcolm is tall, but wiry, where as Sam is short and powerful. At different points, the perspective shifts and the point of view adjusts when one man or the other is on top of the argument. King and cinematographer Tami Reiker make engrossing cinema out of a stage play atmosphere. They combine the hectic energy of the boxing ring with the showmanship of a concert and the intimacy of a heated discussion between friends. The camera work and the movement of the players is a special effect in itself.
Though, the greatest special effect of all is the four lead actors. Eli Goree brings out the pomp and ego of Cassius Clay, but knows the intimacy of a man putting on an act. Alidis Hodge simmers as Jim Brown, but makes sure you know he could take you if challenged. Leslie Odom Jr. always had the pipes to pull off Sam Cooke, but his grace and talent as an actor makes you forget he has those chops until he pulls that arrow from his quiver once again.
Kingsley Ben-Adir is on another level. His Malcolm X is equal parts righteous fury as comfortable casualness. He's able to channel the firebrand and the scholar in equal measure even putting a little Malcolm Little back into the picture with his chastising of his friends when they take his camera. Adir is a powerhouse commanding our attention in every scene he's in.
One Night in Miami is a terrific film. It has all of the elements working together to create something astounding, while evolving our ideas about who these men may have been behind closed doors. I loved everything about it from the acting, to the music, to the music of the discussions and arguments in the dialogue. One Night in Miami is a must see.