Our Take: 5 Stars
History is often grossly oversimplified. It is convenient to teach the Civil Rights movement as one singular movement, and to ignore the numerous players and the web of parties involved. It is easy to reduce the hundreds and thousands of voices down to one singular voice, often that of Martin Luther King Jr. But history is not that easy. Regina King’s (“Watchmen”) new film, “One Night in Miami” embodies the many voices that came together to shape the Civil Rights movement.
Taking place almost entirely in one room, the film depicts the events following Cassius Clay’s (Eli Goree, “Race”), more well known as his later moniker Muhammad Ali, defeat of Sonny Liston to capture the World Heavyweight Title on Feb. 25, 1964. Following Clay’s upset, four great icons — Clay, Jim Brown (Kingsley Ben-Adir, “High Fidelity”), Sam Cooke (Aldis Hodge, “Hidden Figures”), and Malcolm X (Leslie Odom Jr, “Hamilton”) — all met privately in Malcolm’s hotel room. “One Night In Miami” speculates on what happened that night.
Playwright Kemp Powers adapted his original work, a play by the same name, into a compelling and lasting screenplay depicting the Civil Rights Movement. In turn, King breathes life into an already beautiful story. Although King has prior television directing experience, this is her feature film directorial debut.
It is difficult to create a film like “One Night in Miami” that is anchored in conversation instead of action. In similarly structured films, the audience can get bored as the film seems to drag. It takes superbly written dialogue, strong direction and a stellar cast, all combining like a well-oiled machine to create the truly riveting experience that makes a film like this work. And boy does King make it work.
Although simplistic at times, the direction fits extremely well with the conversational flow of the film; the writing and acting are allowed to shine. Odom Jr., Ben-Adir, Goree and Hodge create something truly special on the screen. The chemistry between the four main actors is palpable and brings the exquisite screenplay to life.
Kemp’s writing is truly what sets this film apart. Dialogues trivial and titanic weave a story that is both larger than life and incredibly human. These four men are legends, and leaders in their respective fields. Still, King and Kemp expertly highlight their humanity.
Despite the lead actors’ excellence, many of the supporting characters are flat, awkward and un-fleshed out. Luckily, their screen time is minimal, and the occasional flat delivery does not dampen the profound and moving experience of the movie.
“One Night in Miami” is speculative history, yet there is a reality to the dialogue and the characters that is incredibly tangible. A great deal of research and effort went into the realism of the story and it shows. From the first few scenes that introduce the four primary characters, to the very last moment, the film is an incredibly moving experience that switches effortlessly between humor and meaning with ease.
For anyone who is interested in the powerful true stories of these leaders, check out the book “Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X,” written by Randy Roberts and Tech professor Johnny Smith. The book offers a deeper look into the two men and their decades long relationship. A truly inspiring and moving read.
“One Night in Miami” captures viewers and transports them to a time and place that feels simultaneously near and far. The ideas and themes of the film are as relevant now as ever, and will leave audiences profoundly affected and deep in thought well after the credits roll.
“One Night in Miami” is one of the best films of the year! Watch it now on Amazon Prime Video.