Based on the stage play of the same name, Regina King’s One Night in Miami throws four legends together and has them brilliantly thrash out their different approaches to furthering civil rights in just one night in a Miami motel.
Although Regina King’s film directorial debut One Night in Miami often feels very much the stage play (of the same name by Kemp Powers) on which it is based, do not let this put incorrect thoughts of staid, static set pieces into your head.
For the combination of script, acting, and directing results in a scintillating and potent imaginary account of the night of 25 February 1964, the night that Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown all watched Cassius Clay become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.
After a short introduction to each of the four men individually, the remainder of the film sees them meet in a motel room ostensibly to celebrate the champion’s win. But this is not party time.
The four men engage in discussions about brotherhood, about their successes, and importantly about how each feels they can and should use their influence to speak and act on issues of racial discrimination. Very little is philosophical musing; their conversation is rooted firmly in their own experiences and their individual voice in the civil rights movement, and they ask deep and important questions of each other. As friends, they’re also not afraid to deliver some harsh truths and even question each other’s motivation, as their conflicting ideologies bump up against each other in the confines of the motel room.
The script is sparkling, direct, and packs several punches along the way. And it’s delivered with precision and passion by the four main actors. It’s not right to elevate any of the four (Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr) above the others, as each brings much more to their role than just an impersonation of a famous character.
It’s an ensemble piece that highlights differences, strengthens bonds, ask questions, and is also highly entertaining to watch. Regina King, give us more, please!