Regina King makes her debut as a director in her based on a true story, One Night in Miami. It centres around Cassius Clay’s (Eli Goree) defeat of Sonny Liston (Aaron D. Alexander) in 1964. Clay when meets with Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), with an aim of changing the course of history in the segregated south.
This Amazon Original carefully depicts that evening, with the conversation between these four men being the central focus. This acts as a powerful love letter to a vital meeting of minds, which shape ideas and ambitions in regards to racial conformity and utter generational ignorance.
It won’t surprise the audience to see that the film is adapted from a stage play, with its one-room set up for the majority of the film, which is the significant flaw with One Night in Miami. The conversation between the characters remains fasinating but there are brief moments where it feels more like it’s dragging. It’s easy to feel stuck in this motel room, much like the characters which fill it in. It’s right to say it’s a fluid adaptation, with its limited location and sharp dialogue. For a stage to screenplay this is a common casualty of the transition.
Every character allows this unspoken creative space for each other, allowing each of them to shine. Malcolm X is presented in a less conventional manner, as he is normally seen as politically feared in most media. In One Night in Miami, he is shown as also a family man and revealing his struggles as a public leader. Leslie Odom Jr. makes a strong play for some supporting nods come awards season. We are invited into this world, an intimate portrait of four men who have the weight of the worlds, the weight of representing their race at this pivotal time in American history, on their backs, while still trying to navigate the world as human beings. So often in biopics or docudramas we are unable to see important historical figures as human beings because they’re too busy being Important Historical Figures. We only really see who they are in the history books, not who they were when the non-fiction novelizations stopped and they were just hanging out with their friends.
One Night in Miami is a strong contender as we move into award season, with unmatched performances from all four titans which keep the film flowing. It beautifully sheds light on the civil rights movement, in a way in which the audience feels so apart of the conversation.
One Night in Miami played at BFI London Film Festival 2020