Review by Luke Bradley
One Night in Miami (Regina King) is a fictitious account of a real meeting between four Black icons – Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) – in the aftermath of Clay’s heavyweight championship victory in February 1964. Based on the play of the same name (and adapted by its original playwright, Kemp Powers), the film largely takes place in the confines of a hotel room, setting the stage for a dialogue-fuelled character piece.
The directorial debut is a film type that is promising no matter the end result, as it marks the emergence of a new voice in cinema. You’re always rooting to have a new favourite director, especially if they’re already a proven talent, as is the case here. King’s first outing as a director proves to be an engaging and powerful effort, filled with stellar performances, even if it doesn’t quite escape its stage roots.
The success of this play’s adaptation to the big screen really hinges on its performances, and they do not disappoint. Goree, Ben-Adir, Odom Jr., and Hodge are all fantastic in this film. They all get their moment, each set up individually and effectively in the film’s opening sequence. Ben-Adir in particular is outstanding, taking on the intimidating task of portraying Malcolm X, following in the footsteps of Denzel Washington.
It’s great that their performances are this good, considering the film lives and dies by them due to its very premise. One Night in Miami never really introduces many elements beyond those of its stage version, save for the opening and closing sequences of the film. As such, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that King doesn’t make a large impression on this film, given its strict adherence to its acclaimed legacy onstage. While it’s excellent that this story is now immortalised in cinema, it falls into the classic pitfall of echoing its origins. But, thanks to its stellar cast, it’s nonetheless compelling for it.
One Night in Miami inhabits a fascinating slice of history as it accounts for a meeting between these four great minds, as the specifics of their conversation will never be public knowledge. Considering both the fates of some of those portrayed and the current state of affairs for Black people living in America, this 1960s story remains tragically relevant today. While it may deter historians, One Night in Miami makes for a perfect vehicle for King, Powers, and their supremely talented cast.