For the most part yes, but what to speak, and what characters, and what performances! One Night In Miami begins with the nugget of fact that Cooke, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and the great footballer Jim Brown were all in town on the night of February 25, 1964, when Ali was still passing by Cassius Clay and a few days after announcing his membership. . the Nation of Islam defeated Sonny Liston for the World Heavyweight Championship. The film tumbles down this dramatic golden nugget: four men at the top of their fields, at the height of their fame, in a country still doomed to the destruction of their peoples and arguing over what to do.
Everyone is playing here. Kemp Powers’ dialogue, he co-wrote the screenplay for Pixar’s current version, Soul, is also rooted in a rich, idiosyncratic human portrayal while keeping an eye out for the price of individual responsibility, what these men may or may not owe to events. playing in the streets of Birmingham, Montgomery, and elsewhere. The direction of Regina King, an Oscar-winning actress (If Beale Street Could Talk) who confidently walks into major feature films after honing her skills on TV shows, is smart and quick. She succeeds in crowd scenes early on and keeps the ensuing clash of personalities in motion with a fiery spirit. As a filmmaker, she’s natural, and while One Night in Miami rarely leaves that hotel room, it never feels less than a movie.
At the center of the screen stage is a quartet of actors who bring four familiar names to life, in addition to the personal dilemmas each man grapples with. One of the more subtle jokes of One Night in Miami is that Malcolm X, played by the British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir, is the serious nerd of the group, hoping to seat his friends for an evening of vanilla ice cream and fair speeches while the others crave alcohol and girls. Malcolms is the buzzkill of the class, but Ben-Adir gives him a warmth and passion that allows him to hold the moral high ground.
Clay (Eli Goree) is his willing student and ready to be released; what he doesn’t yet know is that Malcolm is ready to make his own break with the Nation after exposing Elijah Muhammads’ personal corruption and bombing his house in response. Gorees Cassius Clay is the kid in the room, 22 and a swagger of fame after sending Liston in sixth grade; the film understands that its arrogance is earned, a defense mechanism and a political statement all in one.
That makes Cooke and Brown (Aldis Hodge) unbelievers, self-righteous brothers, Cooke wresting control of his career from white record executives and Brown quitting football for movie stardom. Of the two, Cooke is the more determined to assert Malcolm, in part because he is the more defensive; the singer already has his civil rights anthem, A Change Is Gonna Come, in his back pocket, but hasn’t had the courage to record it yet. (In fact, the song was already the starting track from the singers’ new album and Cooke performed it on The Tonight Show three weeks before the fight.)
Odom Jr., whose Aaron Burr in Hamilton catapulted actor to performing and recording stardom, has the most spectacular turn of One Night in Miami in part because Malcolms is so good at getting under the hood. Cook’s skin and delicious to look at while still being completely serious. Odom Jr. also nailed the voice of Not Easy Cookes and he gets the most electrifying flashback in the movies, to a Boston performance of Chain gang that director King orchestrates as an exciting fusion of pop and politics.
Odom Jr. and Ben-Adir received most of the critical acclaim at this fall’s film festival, and it’s not without reason. I always found myself drawn to the quiet simmering mountain in the corner: Jim Brown played with wise gravity by Hodge, so gorgeous as the death row inmate Clemency of years past. A first streak showed us an interaction between the Cleveland Browns player, already a legend at 28, and a white patriarch (Beau Bridges) in Browns’ hometown in Georgia that goes in surprising then shocking directions. Of the four men, Brown keeps his own advice and seems the most aware of the relationship between black celebrity and Black Power, what to take and what to return. Hes this anchor from movies.
For all high spirits and crackling dialogue, a note of bass sadness runs under One Night in Miami, with a tone of paranoia. Two of those men will be shot within a year, and the suspicion with which Malcolms’ chief bodyguard (an excellent Lance Reddick) watches his every move is as threatening as it is comfort. Two months into the night, the FBI would start stepping up its surveillance and harassment of Martin Luther King Jr., a topic covered in the excellent new documentary, MLK / FBI, which also debuts on streaming platforms this week. .
Malcolm is right to feel the threat on the wind and is right to work with a reporter named Alex haley on what will become his autobiography. To succeed and Black in America, says this film, is to tell your own story as you live it, in the pages of a book or the grooves of a disc, in the final zone of a football field or on the battlefield of a boxing ring. Understand the weight and importance of having to be an example. And understanding by being an example is not enough.
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI
Directed by Regina King. Written by Kemp Powers, based on his play. With Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr. On Amazon. 114 minutes. R (language everywhere).
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