one night in miami
director: regina king (debut)
starring: kingsley ben-adir, leslie odom jr., Eli Goree and Aldis Hodge
REVIEWER: lyall carter
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About this time every year we start getting Oscar bait movies, the films that studios believe have a real shot at nabbing an Academy Award, hitting the silver screen. And while the pandemic is raging across the world we still get access to incredible films through the wondrous streaming age. One Night in Miami is a story of a global struggle powerfully writ large on the intimate canvas of the lives of four powerful souls. A 2021 must see film.
One Night in Miami is based on Kemp Powers’ award-winning play of the same name, a fictional account inspired by the historic night that four formidable figures spent together. On one incredible night in 1964, four icons of sports, music, and activism gathered to celebrate one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. When underdog Cassius Clay, soon to be called Muhammad Ali, (Eli Goree), defeats heavy weight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Convention Hall, Clay memorialized the event with three of his friends: Malcolm X, a civil rights activist (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke, a soul singer (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown, an American football player (Aldis Hodge).
Some films based on adapted plays suffer from too many monologues and not enough story and dialogue. One Night in Miami is not that kinda film. It doesn’t restrict itself to one location but moves with the night - from the fight, to the rooftop, to their hotel rooms and everywhere in between. Although fictionalised, One Night in Miami feels, moves and breathes as if it really happened, as if this night went the way the film shows that it does.
While One Night in Miami is punctured with powerful moments, at its heart is a debate between civil rights activist Malcom X and soul singer Sam Cooke. Malcolm X criticises what he believes is Cooke’s almost silence on civil rights and believes he shouldn’t kiss up to the white man but should use his voice to raise up his people. Cooke on the other hand calls out people associated with his movement for pushing drugs on their people and tells him that he is gaining financial freedom for his people.
The reason why this particular debate is so powerful is that it takes two different people, with different approaches to the same issue of freedom for their people and presents it unbiasedly before us. It’s extremely rare for a film to do that with any subject, to present both people and their approaches and ideals as having equal value and deserving respect. One Night in Miami is the cathartic antidote for our culture that instead of fighting amongst ourselves should join, in whatever way we can, to fight for the oppressed and marginalised.
And while the four stars are all phenomenal in their own right its Kingsley Ben-Adir’s portrayal of Malcolm X and Leslie Odom Jr.’s portrayal of Sam Cooke that are completely award worthy. Ben-Adir captures the persistence and dodged determination of Malcolm X while giving him a humanity that you feel that you can reach out and touch. And while Odom Jr (of Hamilton fame - best actor and character in it in my humble opinion) gives Cooke a cool guy kinda vibe in the first act he unleashes a passionate, fiery yet confused character that was always simmering underneath. Breathtaking performances.
One Night in Miami is a story of a global struggle powerfully writ large on the intimate canvas of the lives of four powerful souls. A 2021 must see film.