Regina King smashes it out of the park with her directorial debut.
One Night in Miami affirms one very large fact; there isn’t anything that Regina King cannot do. The film based on the play by Kemp Powers is about the power and possibilities of a moment in time where four very real historical figures converged as they rose to legends.
February 25, 1964. Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree) has just won his first fight against Sonny Liston. In attendance are his friends Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and his mentor in the Nation of Islam Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir). Rather than a night of partying and celebration Malcolm and Ali have other plans but to the chagrin of the other two. What unfolds is much more important than just a party. These friends collide, argue, uplift, belittle, and ultimately come to realizations they always knew.
The delight of King’s debut as a director is that it is as entertaining and important a film released this year. One Night in Miami is first and foremost an engrossing piece of cinema. Working with cinematographer Tami Reiker the duo creates a cinematic language that embraces the stage play and creates an air of intimacy that only cinema can bring.
That intimacy adds to the power of the four lead performers by Ben-Adir, Goree, Hodge, and Odom Jr. Rather than imitations of the legends or mimicry, each of these actors is guided, by King’s able hand, to deeply personal and affecting performances. There is more chemistry between these four men than most of cinema in 2020 (and more than likely 2021).
Ben-Adir and Odom Jr. both are the heart and soul of the piece. As they dual verbally about the way they have or have not contributed to The Movement. In these verbal set pieces, both actors are electric. Ben-Adir as Malcolm X shows us a man, not the historical figure of speeches and of literature. Odom Jr. shows the broken heart and soul of a man who is striving to make things better in his own way as Cooke. As these men break and mend their bonds each of the actor’s give and take is one of the most fascinating dueling performances of the year.
Goree as the man who would become Muhammad Ali has the greatest of high wire acts having to play both the image and the man behind that image. There’s a physicality to the performance that feels lived in and isn’t an act. There is zero posturing. His Ali is the man who is both all confidence and spirit but also one of contemplation.
The secret weapon award of the film belongs to Hodge as Jim Brown. Hodge perfectly inhabits the NFL, Political, and Acting legend. Brown in his hands is the glue that holds this group together. A man that is guided by his own heart, knowing exactly who he is, and what White America thinks of him.
One Night in Miami is the best kind of deeply personal and passionate filmmaking. The kind that informs, entertains, and enlightens.