One Night In Miami Theatrical Review, One Night In Miami (2020)

Four young black men walk into a room … it may sound like the start of a joke, but it actually forms the basis for Regina King’s directorial debut, One Night in Miami. Inspired by real events, the film brings together four iconic black men who were influential in the midst of the civil rights movement and yet remained somewhat powerless. Based on a piece of the same name, it imagines what these four famous people would discuss if they had vanilla ice cream in a room at the historic Hampton House Motel in Miami.

In February 1964, a young boxer named Cassius Clay (Eli Goree; The 100) aka Muhammad Ali hit Sonny Liston by surprise to become the world heavyweight boxing champion. In the building that night, Clay’s friends, activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir; The Commuter), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.; Hamilton) and professional soccer player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge; Straight Outta Compton) were there to cheer him on and help him celebrate afterwards – or so they thought. Upon arrival at the Hampton House Motel, each man is taken to Malcolm X’s room. As soon as he comes back, he tells them that they will celebrate by thinking. It is immediately clear that Malcolm X has his own agenda.

Throughout the film we see what shaped these men into the individuals they eventually become, along with their conflicting views on how to deal with segregation, religion, and the growing violence around them. Malcolm preaches as he tries to convince Cassius to officially announce his conversion to the nation of Islam and berate Sam for turning to the white men of the music industry. Jim rounds out the group as a calm, cool member of this quartet. As each of them sees each other’s point of view that night, we learn how each of them was influenced by one another.

King offers an intimate look at this fictional, fateful evening while also offering the audience a broader view of the country at the time. I’m sure this will be her first attempt at directing, but it will definitely not be her last. She has a keen eye for directing shots that envelop the atmosphere while focusing on the actors. Her passion for this project is expressed in every scene and that is part of what helps the audience connect with the film.

The four actors chosen to portray Malcolm X, Ali, Cooke and Brown are extremely talented, which is what it takes to convince audiences that they are indeed true icons from the 1960s. Ben-Adir has the physical stature and presence of the civil rights leader while Goree embodies the confidence / cockiness Ali was known for. While physically intimidating, Hodge brings a calm gentleness to his performance. After all, Odom Jr. is the perfect pick for Cooke, not only because he has a soulful voice that is permeated with emotion, but also because he can mimic Cooke’s intellectual flair and lively and electrical excitement.

The script can keep up with anything Aaron Sorkin can produce, which is both good and bad. The words are intelligent and well placed, but there are times when the dialogue will “preach”. The film starts slowly, but picks up the pace again in the third act. I also question the fact that the film portrayed Malcolm X as a peaceful man, when it is well documented that his words were flooded with hate speech against whites and instead of trying to end segregation, he promoted them in some way ( think violently) necessary.

While One Night in Miami has a lot going for it, and I see it has been nominated for at least one Oscar, it also has flaws that are hard to miss.

Grade B

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