Few people know what it’s like to be a celebrity better than other celebrities, and that’s probably also true for Civil Rights icons. Regina King’s “One Night in Miami…”, distributed by Amazon Studios, explores this concept by presenting the story of one night in Miami in 1964 in which friends Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) spend time together in a hotel room the night after Ali became the world heavyweight boxing champion.
The film is based on a play by the same name by Kemp Powers, who also adapted the film’s screenplay, which is important, as it allows for a purity of vision many adaptations lack, and it enhances the film, as there is a clear focus on performance and dialogue, which I have no doubt were also the strengths of the stage play.
The film’s four leads really make this film. Goree plays a believable, if not young and naive, Muhammad Ali, and Ben-Adir nails Malcolm X. Odom Jr. and Hodge also shine, with Odom Jr. playing the business-savvy and quick-thinking Cooke who often clashes with Malcolm X’s idealistic vision for advancing Civil Rights, with Hodge’s Brown — an NFL football player — often serving as a mediator between the two.
Each character has their own unique personal conflicts, as well as approaches as it pertains to Civil Rights. Ali, who sees Malcolm X as a mentor figure and guide into entering the Nation of Islam, aims to be excellent in his field, elevating others by doing so. Malcolm X is a self-described militant, and seeks to inspire a revolution in which Black people fight for themselves, taking the rights they deserve. Brown and Cooke seek to advance Civil Rights by achieving financial independence for themselves and others, with Brown pursuing a film career outside the bureaucracy of the NFL, and Cooke being a successful musician who managed to get music he and other Black artists wrote into the popular culture, which allowed him to advance his own music career, while producing Black artists.
All four are also friends, so there’s a greatly personal element to this film, with one of the main conflicts being Malcolm X’s tenuous relationship with the Nation of Islam, that would eventually see him leave the order, which creates a rift between himself and Ali. And it is worth noting that there are moments in which Powers takes creative liberties to make the story more interesting — in the film, Ali and Malcolm X reconcile, which did not happen in real life. In fact, according to NPR, it was one of Ali’s greatest regrets.
Cooke and Brown also offer some great commentary on what it was like being a Black celebrity back then. And it is handled with such care that you often forget that the film is based on a play and not a transcript from an actual roundtable discussion from all four men.
“One Night in Miami…” is another film that proves you don’t need $100 million to make an effective, engaging and thought-provoking film. You just need a handful of great actors, one good set, an excellent script, and a director who knows how to direct actors.
This film is smart, powerful and thoughtful, and sits among Amazon Prime Video’s best original works, and is one of the best films of last year.
“One Night in Miami…” gets a 9/10