ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI…
Running Time: 115 mins.
Where Can You See It?: Amazon Prime
Premise: On February 25, 1964, after Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) defeats Sonny Liston to become the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World, he gathers with friends Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) to celebrate in a Miami hotel room and end up discussing their roles in the civil rights movement.
Behind-the-Scenes: This is a fictional account of that night, and based on Kemp Powers’ stage play of the same name. Powers adapted his script for the screen. He’s had quite a year! He also co-wrote Disney-Pixar’s Soul. Oscar and Emmy-winning actress Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk, Jerry Maguire, Watchmen) makes her directorial debut. This is actually the first film by a Black female director to ever be selected by the Venice Film Festival.
The Good: The actors. Wow – each of the four leads does a brilliant job of embodying the legendary figures they’re playing. Ben-Adir, standing in the shadows of Denzel, really impresses as Malcolm X and is the driving force of the film. Hodge probably gets the least amount to do as Brown, but man – when his big moment comes, Hodge crushes it. Odom, who we already know can sing brilliantly from Hamilton, is probably the standout for me as Cooke – just in terms of the pure range of emotion needed. Goree comes the closest to pure impersonation as Cassius, and doesn’t have the same dramatic chops as the others, but he’s still fantastic (and a more convincing Ali than Will Smith). King does a wonderful job staging the scenes and letting the actors rip. Even though it’s obviously a stage adaptation, the first 30 minutes are able to convince you otherwise by opening the world up beyond that one hotel room. Perfect ending set to Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”
The Bad: The inherent limitations of a stage adaptation are unshakeable. For a good hour, the movie consists of 4 dudes talking in a room. Some of the conversations crackle, some don’t.
Should You See It?: Yes. This is one of 2020’s best movies, with Ben-Adir and Odom likely to be nominated come Oscar time. King, already a deeply accomplished actress, has a promising directing career ahead of her. After it was over, I immediately went online to purchase a Sam Cooke greatest hits vinyl.
Star Rating: **** out of 5 stars
Better Than: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Worse Than: Malcolm X
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