One Night in Miami

The night is young, and these talents have a lot to talk about.

Regina King’s directorial debut is the film version of Kemp Powers’ Broadway play “One Night in Miami,” which is about the fictional account of how African-American legends boxer Muhammad Ali, singer Sam Cooke, football player Jim Brown, and human rights activist Malcom X got together in Miami of 1964. I caught this online from the Middleburg Film Festival, and I was marveled by how King adapts the play with inspiration and passion. She may have directed TV episodes (“This is Us,” “Shameless,” etc.) and the documentary “Story of a Village,” but this “Ray” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” actress has outdone herself.

The movie opens with the legends dealing with struggles of their own. Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), gets knocked out in the ring, Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.) bombs in Copacabana, Jim Brown’s (Aldis Hodge) white friend Mr. Carlton (Beau Bridges) doesn’t allow his kind in his plantation-looking home, and Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) puts his house and family at risk when he decides to leave the Nation of Islam. This sets a similar tone to “Green Book” and it continues with the kind of play narrative I’ve recently seen in “The Boys in the Band.”

Then we head off to a hotel in Miami, where these real life figures join together to celebrate Cassius joining the Nation of Islam. Expanding his horizons, Jim has landed an acting role in the western film “Rio Conchos.” Malcolm is going to Mecca and invites his friends. And Sam, being the opportunist, decides to give Copacabana another shot. That’s when they begin arguing about how they’re dealing with the fight against racism and their respective careers. And that’s when Malcolm X reminds them that they have futures, and when he reminds them about leaving the Nation of Islam to start a new organization.

The supporting cast also includes Lance Reddick and Christian Magby as Malcolm’s security guards, Michael Imperioli as Cassius’ manager, Joaquina Kalukango as Malcolm’s wife, and Jeremy Pope has a cameo as Jackie Wilson. But Odom, Jr., Goree, Hodge, and Ben-Adir are all the real stars of the show, because they portray the real life figures with a Broadway sense. After all, it is based on the play.

Odom, Jr. ignites the screen when he sings his own covers of Sam Cooke’s hits and when he eases deep into the real-life singer. Denzel Washington will alway be the best actor to portray Malcolm X as he did in Spike Lee’s classic, but Ben-Adir delivers some powerful dialogue as him. Hodge is flat-out fantastic in how he adapts to playing real-life figures as he did in “Brian Banks” and “Straight Outta Compton.” And Goree packs some punches as the famed boxer.

I’ve had a discussion about “One Night in Miami” with “Knives Out” actress K. Callan over a video chat, as we it saw it at different film festivals, and we both loved it for how it breaks tradition from the play and how good Odom, Jr. was as Sam Cooke. Kudos to King for adapting Powers’ play with such integrity and poetry, as these two are able to find the chemistry to show us what they believed went on. It’s a masterpiece about celebrities who all manage to find out their main goals and ambitions, while adapting to the realities around them, which in this case involves the fight against racism.

There’s a lot to talk about here.

Rating: 4 out of 4.

In Select Theaters Christmas Day

Streams on Amazon Prime January 15

Categories: Drama

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