By Adam Ray Palmer
Regina King steps behind the camera for the first time with her directorial debut, One Night in Miami.
Taken from the stage play of the same name, King’s entrance to the shot-calling chair is one that won’t go unnoticed…
One Night in Miami is the imagined story, based on real events, of what followed 22-year-old Muhammad Ali’s (Eli Goree) 1964 victory over heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. After becoming world champion, Cassius Clay (at the time) heads back to a hotel with three close friends in activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and NFL player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge).
What ensues on the one night in Miami between the four gentleman is a clash of minds. The foursome discuss their public image in a world where the pinnacle of success for a black person was to be a sportsperson or entertainer, alongside their drive to fight for black liberation. The film is a fascinating look at how the four worlds can collide through personal and political conflicts as they find their own being in a world they feel needs change.
There’s lots of positives with this film, but none more so than the intricate filmmaking. It’s dialogue-heavy, but the script never feels too laboured. For a first-time feature behind the camera, Regina King delivers a powerful debut. The script is a long two hours, but it zips through due to clever pacing. There’s weighty scenes throughout where the talent delivers their incredible performances, but then there’s a few ‘breather scenes’ where we can take a pause and learn a little more about their personal lives.
One Night in Miami was adapted from the stage play by Kemp Powers. Kemp also crafted the screenwriting for this and its clear within the film that the origins are from the stage. It feels like a two-hour concert, were the four protagonists are given equal screen time to shine. The camera pans around them, cutting back and forth like we are a live audience watching four gifted actors do their thing.
Accompanying King behind the lens is Tami Reiker. The cinematography produced by Reiker is gorgeous. The contrasting rich colours mixed subtly with the vintage overlays really brings the 1964 feel alive. In addition, Terence Blanchard’s score and soundtrack elevates the sequences to new levels, really hitting home just how beautifully Regina King has made this movie. That’s the perfect complement I can think of for One Night in Miami, it’s simply beautifully made with finesse and love.
King supports the cast in getting the best out of them. I feel Eli Goree (Ali) and Aldis Hodge (Brown) are in more supporting roles but have their own certain scenes to showcase their talent. However, it’s Ben-Adir Kingsley (Malcom X) and Leslie Odom Jr (Cooke) who steal the show for me. They have captivating debates, saying their pieces with such charm and wit making the statements digestible so much quicker. The four stars not only make this movie entertaining, but insightful and important.
One Night in Miami is simply about a meeting of minds on a historic evening. Their conversations were surface level at the top of the night, but certainly heat was added before sunrise; opening up the civil rights discussion even as they acknowledged the backlash they faced. It’s a Leslie Odom Jr (Sam Cooke) line that has stayed with me though as he profoundly comments: “I don’t want a piece of the pie; I want the goddam recipe” in response to him making money from white people buying his records as The Rolling Stones make one of his songs a hit. It’s an intriguing thought, and one that descends the night into a trading of educated words that nearly 60 years on, we could still do with listening to.
Anyway, in a nutshell, it’s a great movie. I’m off to listen to some Mr Cooke.
Cineroom’s rating: 4 stars
One Night in Miami is released on in cinemas on 15th January 2021 – certificate 12A