Movie review: One Night In Miami

Jim Brown, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Cassius Clay

One Night in MiamiThe movie One Night In Miami is about February 25, 1964. Boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) fought Sonny Liston for the heavyweight crown. Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) of the Nation of Islam and singer/songwriter Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) were in attendance. The great football running back Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) was doing commentary for a media outlet.

Then they got together afterward. The film was based on a stage play by Kemp Powers. While we don’t know precisely what the guys really talked about that night, the fascinating dialogue was a most credible representation of what they might have discussed. Conversations about expectations and capitalism and race and music, among other elements, as each professional was in the midst of a significant change in his life.

This was the directorial debut of Regina King, although you wouldn’t think so. She won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar and Golden Globe for the fine 2018 film If Beale Street Could Talk.  

From stage to screen

As I look back on it, I recognize that King and Powers added on to the beginning of the film some scenes from prior to that night. Clay’s fight with Henry Cooper in June of 1963. Cooke’s opening night at a particular nightclub. A seemingly pleasant get together with Brown and a mentor. Malcolm musing about his future with his wife Betty (Joaquina Kalukango).

I think frontloading the film with these scenes somewhat hid the fact that most of the rest of the film was essentially in and around Malcolm’s motel room. Some films suffer from being too “stagey”, but I thought that the intimate dialogue made us feel as though we were in the room, not just observers.

The 299 critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave One Night in Miami a 98% approval rate. The acting was tremendous, not just the four leads, but minor characters such as Malcolm’s bodyguards, Kareem X (Lance Reddick), and Jamaal (Christian Magby). See this film.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

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