One Night in Miami

Four stellar performances, great directing and a thought provoking screenplay turn this stage adaptation into a compelling movie streaming now on Amazon.

One Night in Miami is a fictionalized depiction of a real meeting that took place in 1964 between Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown. All four men are in periods of transition. Muhammad Ali is still Cassius Clay. He’s defeated Sonny Liston and is in the process of converting to Islam under Malcolm X who is considering leaving the Nation of Islam over the abuses of power and corruption within the hierarchy. Jim Brown is considering leaving football behind in order to pursue a movie career, and Sam Cooke is considering a move away from popular soul music and moving in a more political direction. These four men and the changes they’re facing reflect the way the world changed in the 60’s.

I have to start with these stunning performers. My goodness they’re fantastic. They walk the line between mimicry and genuine performance perfectly.

Eli Goree embodies Clay’s (later Ali’s) voice, his cadence, and his confidence without ever swinging across the line into parody. He completely nails the performance, and every time he’s on screen he’s a delight to watch and listen to.

Kingsley Ben-Adir walks that same line of performing Malcolm X’s famous rhythms while giving a truly resonate and emotional performance. He has the heaviest lifting here and he pulls it off beautifully.

Leslie Odin Jr. most well known as Aaron Burr in Hamilton, gives what is probably the most challenging performance as Sam Cooke. Cooke’s voice is harder to evoke and his position in the group is more nuanced. The rest of the group is fighting for equality in a similar fashion. Cooke is going about it in his own way that isn’t always obvious. He is challenged and pushed to the point that the film becomes a tug of war between Cooke and Malcolm.

Aldis Hodge plays Jim Brown. He has what is like the straight man in the comedy. He doesn’t have the flashy role. He doesn’t get the big emotional beats, but he remains a steady solid foundation that grounds the rest of the performers.

The script was adapted by Kemp Powers from his own stage play of the same name. He does a great job of keeping the action moving naturally. So many play adaptations feel stagnant due to the single setting of the play. The energy in a play is dictated by the actors. In film the energy is created by the combination of acting, camerawork, editing, music, lighting, and setting. So many adaptations don’t seem to understand that shift. From the script up, he has written a wonderful adaptation and keeps the emotional peaks and valleys while opening up the play and allowing it to be a movie not just a filmed play.

A lot of the adaptational success can also be attributed to director Regina King. She is most well known as an actor in movies like Jerry Maggie’s, If Beale Street Could talk, and most recently the HBO series Watchmen. This is her feature directorial debut, and she nails it. The pacing is fantastic. The attention to detail is wonderful. She has an actors eye for performance and authenticity. I would have liked to see a little more expressive camera work and lighting, but her work here serves the story well. It’s a great debut, and I hope it’s the first of many directorial efforts.

The movie is very serious at times. It tackles weighty subjects and hard hitting perspectives on race, religion and wealth inequality, but it’s still a very fun movie. Don’t get the impression that this is one of those history lesson movies about important people being important. It’s a lot of fun watch Malcolm X try to throw a party that doesn’t break his Islamic diet. No alcohol, but he has ice cream.

The film treats these people not monuments of history. A lot of attention is paid to Malcolm’s love of photography. Jim Brown talks about his love of pork chops. Sam Cooke plays a guitar casually in the corner. These are real people. I really appreciate when a movie strips away the veneer of history and shows us what these people might have actually been like.

I really liked this movie. It was thought provoking and fun. The performers are wonderful. The script and direction are solid. Definitely check this one out on Amazon. It’s my cup of tea A-

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