Regina King has proved over the years that she is one of the best actresses around, with her performance in If Beale Street Could Talk being one of our favourites of the last decades. This year also saw the release of her feature film debut. Having already directed several episodes of different tv shows, One Night in Miami cements King as a talent not just in front of, but behind the camera as well.
One Night in Miami centres on Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) , Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammed Ali, (Eli Goree), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), as they spend an evening together after Clay’s win of the boxing world title. Based on his play of the same name, the screenplay is written by Kemp Powers, and recounts the fictional meeting between the four iconic men.
The film starts with an introduction of the four men in their respective fields, and as the title finally appears on screen, you realise you have been so engrossed by the story you have forgotten you are only fifteen minutes in. As the four men (who were friends in real life) come together in the Hampton House in Miami, we are already fully convinced by the actors’ performances. Each of the actors embodies their characters to perfection and its hard to pick a favourite amongst amongst the four.
As the night progresses, a heated debate arises between Cooke and Malcolm X, as they each have different believes in how they should navigate their activism for the black community in America. Both the performances and the screenplay truly shine here. Not only does Powers’ script provide ample opportunity for both characters to express their point of view, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Leslie Odom Jr give it their all. By the end of each monologue you understand both perspectives and empathise with each character.
While the argument between Sam Cooke and Malcolm X might be at the forefront of the film, Cassius Clay and Jim Brown each get their own moments in which they are able to express their concerns and struggles. It’s a testament to King’s direction how well the film navigates between the four men’s stories, and how effortlessly the story balances the heated outbursts between moments of vulnerability. As the film progresses, we are truly able to see the people behind the iconic figures: both the performances and the screenplay allow the audience to see the characters as human beings with their own individual struggles, and not just as impersonations of their real-life counterparts.
For a film based on a play, the cinematography surprisingly shines as well. Tami Reiker (the first woman to ever be nominated and win the American Society of Cinematographers Award) brings movement and energy to moments that could so easily be still. While most of the story is based in one location, her camerawork moves organically with our characters, constantly keeping you engaged. Though the film is definitely not the first to be based on a play, it is one of the few that feels distinctly cinematic and not bound by the limits of the stage.
The film touches on so many things that are still extremely relevant today. It perfectly portrays the difficulty of gaining power within a system that doesn’t value you, while simultaneously trying to figure out how to use to that power to stimulate change. The four main actors each give star-making performances and manage to add depth and new layers to people we know so well. Regina King shows again that she is at the top of her game, perfectly balancing emotion, humour and political debate.
One Night in Miami is a film that feels both fresh and timeless and one that engrosses you from the second it starts, right up to the end. When Sam Cooke’s -now iconic- song begins, and we see the characters for the last time, the film’s emotional weight truly sinks in, and as an audience you can appreciate the accomplishments of these men more than ever.
One Night in Miami is available on Prime Video.