What would happen over the span of a night if you united the likes of legends such as Malcolm X, Cassius Clay (before he was christened Muhammad Ali), Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown? Playwright Kemp Powers answers that question in his acclaimed stage play One Night In Miami. A fictionalized account of the four real-life friends, One Night In Miami… chronicles a night in February 1964 where the men gather together to celebrate Clay’s victory over Sonny Liston. As the men celebrate, they pivot to more serious discussions, asking existential questions about their lives, and reviewing the issues they face as Black men in America.
Prior to now, One Night In Miami… existed on the stage- that is until director Regina King brought it to the big screen. Also written by Kemp Powers (who is co-writer of Disney’s highly anticipated Soul), the story comes to life in a way that not only honors the original play but also honors the four pioneers that star in it. A masterclass in acting, King’s feature directorial debut is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
Inspired by a true story, Kemp imagines the behind-the-scenes the fateful night of February 25th,1964. At a snazzy hotel in Miami, Cassius Clay not only celebrated his victory against Sonny Liston but announced the birth of Muhammed Ali. An intimate affair, the majority of One Night In Miami… takes place in a single, understated hotel room. Less plot-driven, and more character-driven, the film centers discussions crucial to the Civil Rights era, which still remain relevant.
A powerhouse ensemble, King has recruited some of the finest young actors working today. Each actor submerges himself in his role, all four embodying the essence of the larger than life men they play. While many portrayals of historical figures can border on impersonation, that never happens here.
Aldis Hodge stars as Jim Jones, the football player-turned-movie star. As always, Hodge shines, giving a mature performance. As the middleman of the group, Hodge’s Jim Jomes is calm and collected. Leslie Odom Jr. is the business-minded and confident Sam Cooke. An electric presence on-screen and off, Odom captivates as the pop star and ladies man he portrays. Eli Goree is a dead ringer for Cassius Clay, bringing forth his charisma and resilience. While the cast is driven by powerful performances collectively, Kingsley Ben-Adir is a standout in his role as Malcolm X. While there have been multiple actors who have portrayed the icon on the screen, Ben-Adir makes his own mark in a memorable performance. Simmering with a quiet intensity, Ben-Adir takes this feature to the next level. Seeing the breadth of each actors’ role, it will be interesting to see how the acting nominations will pan out this coming awards season. Regardless, One Night In Miami… is bound to take over the Best Ensemble conversations.
With Powers’ writing, One Night In Miami paints a vulnerable, powerful portrait of four of the most impactful men in the sixties. A major “What if?” tale, we’re allowed into the men’s private lives. While Cassius, Malcolm, Sam, and Jim all ponder over creating a social impact in the South, they have their comedic moments. Like any group of friends, they make fun of each other and reminisce about years past. And also like friends, the men have heated arguments. With integrity, celebrity, and weighing the obligation of using their platforms to enact change, the men all have their viewpoints. Malcolm X, a purist disagrees with Sam Cooke’s neutral approach to his art.
With directing stints on shows such as Insecure, This Is Us, The Good Doctor, and Scandal, it was inevitable that King would finally direct a feature. Additionally, having worked alongside directing heavyweights that include the likes of Barry Jenkins (of which her role in If Beale Street Could Talk won an Oscar) and John Singleton, it’s really no surprise that King’s first major feature is a home run. A consummate actress, King is proof that actors can and should direct other actors. Her lens is one that brings out the best of all her leads and portrays them in a sympathetic light.
Combined with masterful writing and directing, One Night In Miami is accented by the lovely cinematography of Tami Reiker, costume design by Francine Jamison-Tanchuck, and the score of Terence Blanchard. Crafted with the utmost love and care, King’s feature pours a lot of love both in front of and behind the camera.
One of the buzziest films on the festival circuit, One Night In Miami… has bulldozed its way into the Oscar conversation. A sure Best Picture contender, the film is something we need right now, and something we certainly won’t forget anytime soon.