In her first turn as a feature film director, Oscar-winning actress Regina King hits a home run on the first try with One Night In Miami…
A more than brief prologue sets the tone of the film before we ever see the title on screen. One by one, we’re introduced to the major players Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.). The main action takes place Hampton House Hotel on February 25, 1964 following the Miami Convention Center fight between Ali and Sonny Liston. For the record, Ali hadn’t yet changed his name at the time. Out of respect to the late boxer and my fellow Louisville native, I will only refer to him as Ali in this film review.
These four people were seen as major titans in their industry. At the same time, they all had differing views when it came to the Civil Rights movement. This point of view alone makes for the most intriguing dynamic in the film. The four of them get into it on the roof when Malcolm X believes that Sam Cooke should have a different approach in the message. And in spite of all this, their conversations–fictionalized as it may be–still feel very relevant today.
When it comes to casting the legends, you have to have the right people. Otherwise, such projects becomes harder to sell what people are watching. And in this film? I would not change a thing with the casting. Eli Goree is perfection as The Greatest. They all capture their personas. And to see Odom Jr. perform “A Change is Gonna Come” on The Tonight Show is one of those moments where you know that the film certainly gets it right.
The question this film asks–and again, we see it happening today–is about an artist or athlete’s responsibility. Should they just do their job on the field, stage, or screen? Or should they be vocal and say something? I should note that I watched One Night In Miami… the very day after Kansas City Chiefs fans were booing a message of racial unity from both NFL teams on the field. I’m of the belief that athletes can and should be vocal when it comes to Civil Rights. What is it that they say? Oh, right–silence is complicity. It goes without saying that any fans against these displays of protests against racial injustice are showing their true colors as racists. I can imagine a similar film taking place in the future but with the focus being on LeBron James and other NBA athletes but I digress.
The film is based on the stage play by Kemp Powers and Powers adapts the script for film. Behind the camera, Regina King never gets too over-stylish with the camerawork. In fact, the camerawork often works to the service of the film. After all, this film is based on a play written for the theater. The only time you really get the theatrical feeling is when the four of them are in Malcolm X’s hotel room. Outside of those scenes, you’d probably never even realize that the script originated in a stage play. But even in the hotel room, King makes a great choice to place the camera from different angles.
Tariq Anwar’s editing makes sure that the film keeps its momentum while never letting it feel too theatrical. This is easier said than done, of course.
Regina King couldn’t have asked for a better project to make her feature film directorial debut. The premiere of One Night In Miami… could not be more timely and relevant after the continuing protests against racial injustice in 2020. With an extended awards season, it’s going to be on Amazon Studios to determine whether they want to wait it out for theaters to have a larger capacity or get the film on Amazon Prime Video where more viewers can watch.
DIRECTOR: Regina King
SCREENWRITER: Kemp Powers
CAST: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Joaquina Kalukango, Nicolette Robinson, with Beau Bridges and Lance Reddick