Updated: Oct 15, 2020
Directed by: Regina King
Written by: Kemp Powers
Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Leslie Odom Jr, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge
One Night in Miami Film Review
Regina King is the latest actor turned director and whilst that might seem like a fast jump, she has been acting for decades, with only a couple of recent acclaimed roles in If Beale Street Could Talk and HBO's Watchmen unearthing her talent. Her newest film is an adaptation of a 2013 play that claims to be “inspired by a true story” that obviously had a lot of relevancy when it came out and has even more relevancy today.
After Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) is crowned the new Boxing Heavyweight Champion, he and some of the other men attending the match, those men being Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), all head back to a motel room. There they discuss many topics and get into each other’s personal struggles and how they try to handle the systemic racism of the 60’s.
The film is at it’s best when it focuses on the central setup, that being the interplay between these four famous individuals in the motel. The opening act before the motel section goes on too long and the placement of the finale is a bit sudden, though neither sections are bad they both are not as strong as the centrepiece. Kemp Powers’s dialogue is strong enough to make the fact that little action happens not a problem and there is a decent amount of humour to alleviate the seriousness of the story, but there is also a lot of complex ideological and character-centric debate.
Malcolm X and Sam Cooke have the most prominent conflict, with Malcolm seeing Sam as a sell-out and Sam trying to defend himself. There are also other individual conflicts, almost all revolving around Malcolm in some way. As for the themes of the story, the central one is about how black men in positions of power try to fight against systemic racism. Every character is trying to be empowering towards African Americans through their celebrity status, yet they are all still taking fundamentally different approaches. There are no easy answers given and by the end you are left satisfied yet also wondering if these four men succeeded.
Acting-wise, every actor does a fantastic job. Rather than feeling like cosplays or impressions, they all get to the heart of these people and mostly disappear into their roles. It is hard to pick a standout, as they all do well, but Kingsley and Leslie get the biggest spotlight. Kingsley greatly humanises Malcolm and Leslie uses both his singing and acting talents to good effect. Aldis and Eli both do great work as well, as the former is understated whilst the latter has loads of charisma.
As for the direction, I do feel like Regina King could have done more to make the film feel cinematic. The cinematography is good, but there are some flourishes missing to make the transition from play to screen more justified. This is most prominent in the opening sequence, as rather than have four establishing scenes be showcased in an interesting manner, the scenes just play out, making them feel very turgid and slow. That is not to say there are no subtle touches, but King’s direction works best when the material goes big in a few key argument scenes.
One Night in Miami might not be a masterpiece, but it is a good directorial debut for Regina King with a solid screenplay and a quartet of great performances that make it worth the transition from play to film.