Director Regina King
Screenplay Kemp Powers based on the play
Starring Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr.
One Night In Miami… is the kind of film that breaks a centuries old problem down from the perspective of four men. These men have been misunderstood for good (Ali, Cooke) or ill (Brown, Malcom X) since the day they all shared the limelight. This is before two of them died, one became an obscure legend and the other became the greatest of all time.
The story is concocted of a moment in time where the four friends met at The Hampton House after Clay (Goree) becomes Heavyweight Boxing Champion over Sonny Liston. The gathering is misunderstood as a party by Cooke and Brown (Odom Jr. and Hodge) as they arrive at Malcom X’s (Ben-Adir) room, guarded by Brothers from the Nation of Islam. When they discover it is not, there are flare ups that need to be smoothed out. These will be rectified, but not through hugging and learning. It will be through questions and introspection on the part of all four.
The performances of the four leads are all award worthy. The personalities of each are given their initial boundaries as we know (or heard) about them. King and Powers allow each character to breathe, however, and what could have been forced flows freely and naturally. This work is a gift for those subjected to years of media malfeasance towards the character of each of these icons. We are allowed to see them as men of full conscious as well as conviction.
For Clay, we see more than just the mouth we’ve had force fed as a celebration all of these years. This is a moment of rebirth for a man, and we see it for the challenge that it must have been. It fills one with the desire to know him more as a person, and somehow builds on the legend even more. Goree not only looks the part of the champ, but he feels completely human.
As Jim Brown, Hodge shows the complete stud at the top of his powers, yet still held down by the hands that insist they’re helping him up. We know he doesn’t need a thing but to be left to his own devices. Hodge’s performance reminds one of the no-nonsense master that he’s always been in interviews, as well as the movies. The man is the definition of manhood.
Odom Jr. is a miracle as Sam Cooke. I have always enjoyed his music, no matter the song. This film puts his iconic A Change Is Gonna Come front and center, as well it should. We also get an incredible sense of the need for that song at a time and place when Cooke’s success didn’t mean as much as it eventually would. The journey he takes to get there is remarkably touching.
The most rewarding performance is Ben-Adir as the historically misunderstood Malcom X. The same papers that vilified him when he was alive now sing his praises, but they still misunderstand how his evolution (and stability of belief) helped to transcend the United States. For so long we have believed different things about Malcom X, to think he and MLK were actually on the same page when each was martyred is often passed by those who claim to revere either of the men.
What I see with Malcom X in this story more closely mirrors the Malcom X I learned about with Spike Lee’s incredibly balanced biographical drama, X. If someone would have said Ben-Adir would actually have improved on Denzel Washington’s performance of the man, they should rightly have been questioned. Wondrously, the younger thespian expands on everything Washington and Lee created, giving the viewer some genuine insight on the incredible stress the leader was under at the time. If he doesn’t win the Oscar, they might as well skip the ceremony this year.
And that is not all the winning this film deserves. Kemp Powers’ premise had cliche written all over it, yet somehow he manages to make the meeting as powerful and intriguing as it should have been. Four men at a crossroads could end up on a four way collision of sentimental crap, but no, this is respect for the men, what they are striving for, and what they mean to those who follow.
Regina King should be the next woman to win an Oscar for directing. Her powers of observation and fearless commitment to letting these icons expose their flaws while striving to be more than they feel they are allowed. It’s no sin to want to be fully human. That she allows them to be men creates an extra dimension rarely seen in socially conscious films.
If you want to really get something out of a story, and you want to connect to humanity, this should be the film of the year.
(***** out of *****)