Directed By Regina King
Starring – Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge
The Plot – One Night in Miami is a fictional account of one incredible night where icons Muhammad Ali (Goree), Malcolm X (Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr), and Jim Brown (Hodge) gathered discussing their roles in the civil rights movement and cultural upheaval of the 60s.
Rated R for adult language throughout
– Seamless transition. With Hollywood feeling inspired by the lights of the stage, it has brought us no shortage of cinematic adaptions, and while most of them translate beautifully to the silver screen, King’s debut feels like a cut above the rest in terms of the pageantry of its production. While those other films maintain an air of authenticity within the aura of the stage, complete with long take shots and long-winded dialogue, this one trades in those intimacies for a barrage of set locations, a near perfect editing scheme that ties the many mentalities of its leads together in one cohesive breath, and an overall luxurious presentation that emanates in the form of some complex balancing sequences in scale from arguably one of the best female cinematographers going today; Tami Reiker. It removes any semblance of stage mentality from the presentation of the film, which in turn could alienate some of the story’s core audience, but for me it was continuously indulging while elevating the story and its characters on a whole other level previously unseen.
– The King. Another transition is that of Regina King, whose academy recognized performances throughout the last twenty-five years of film has made her a pioneer not only in the black community, but also within the context of dramatic cinema as a whole. Here, she brings that knowledge in a directorial capacity, and it’s one that enriches the nuances and psychologies of the characters in ways that are historically unconventional for the way white directors view black characters, but especially celebrities. King illustrates them as characters with souls, complete with ambitions, fears, and personal commentaries that allow them to stand out in a three-dimensional capacity. Cap this off with the kind of unabashed focus and importance that King resonates within the context of the story, and you have urgency in the form of stakes for what is otherwise just a conversation between friends. It proves that she values these characters as much as she does the hypothesis behind this night in question, and cements a profoundly rewarding experience for her debut effort that makes these nearly two hours hit with an equally conveying substance to its stimulating style.
– Layered screenplay. Stitched beneath its evening of four icons interacting is an abundance of hefty themes and social commentaries that screenwriter Kemp Powers supplants to the film’s simmering drama. Beneath this being a conventional biopic drama that focuses entirely on the life and times of its protagonists, the story tackles racial segregation in each man’s fields, religious ramifications, and even a hearty layer of psychology within each man’s frame of mind that accurately reads every facial registry conveyed in scene. While what happened behind closed doors this night is merely up to speculation, Powers studying of such during 1964 seems appropriately conjured without any true risk or disrespect to the likenesses of those, who a majority of which are no longer with us, and cements a society on the brink of a sociological change that these men feel prophets of. Intimate, powerful, and full of cultural significance.
– Spell-binding performances. There’s a quality in the work of these four actors that transcends this feeling like a series of impressions, and instead allows each of them to practically melt into the roles, and maintain believability in the eyes of their audience that brings these pivotal figures back to life for one magical night. While my favorite is Odom’s Cooke, complete with actual vocal tones and mannerisms that accurately channel the generational talent, it is Kingsley Ben-Adir who candidly steals the show as Malcolm X. While there’s nothing emotionally climatic about Kingsley’s deliveries, it’s the way he commits to the character while toeing a line of personal identity that seems to constantly conflict him that is most enchanting, and offers a chemistry in bond with any of his three co-stars that allows him to bounce off of each of them whenever the story calls for such. Hodge and Goree are also brilliant as Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali respectively. Goree is given plenty of opportunities to channel the G.O.A.T’s legendary post fight interviews, and Hodge stitches a gentle demeanor to Brown’s legacy that supplanted a variety of substance to a character whom society unfortunately only saw as one thing.
– Synthetic dialogue. This is an aspect that could’ve also fallen under Kemp’s impeccable touch to the script, but deserves its own cherishing for the way it constantly kept me invested to a movement in story setting that remains entirely grounded for most of the duration of the film. As with most plays, the dialogue is vitally important, and in this cinematic re-telling it’s certainly no different. The script demands rapid fire delivery with impeccable timing, as the players discuss ideals important to them at the time, as well as various racial injustices that sting with a conscience of contemporary relevance now more than ever. Surprisingly, however, the screenplay isn’t eaten up with constant dialogue, and in fact uses an abundance of silence in between these heartfelt deliveries to wonderfully drive home the powerfully poignant emotions and meaning that we swallow unnervingly for the way they spring reality to the ambition of the characters. It’s written by the same man, but feels cohesively diverse in the vast personalities of these iconic figures, granting each of them a lived-in quality that Powers takes time illustrating to the audience.
– Historically accurate. Obviously the conversations behind closed doors withstanding, nearly the entirety of the film is factually impressive to the kind of dates and locations conjured up, that proves Powers has done his homework. This is a key element to any biopic for me because history should be the most important element to any work of non-fiction with respect to the characters. For this film, it’s the attention to detail, both in the designs of the hotel and the liknesses in wardrobe that the movie continuously hits on. The one flaw in its otherwise impeccable registry is an error during the first Ali fight, which states it’s taking place from Wembley Park, instead of Wembley Stadium, two entirely geographical different locations in England. Everything else radiates with an air of authenticity that truly dazzles the big screen appeal of the film’s production, and makes this an experience that was as cinematically engaging as it was factually knowledgeable.
– Tonally extending. In a film with no shortage of tonal shifts and personality divots, there’s bound to be abrupt transition issues that breed obviousness in the intentions of a scene. Fortunately, that isn’t the case here, as King injects a pleasurable abundance of light-hearted humor to the pacing of each sequence, that really offers humbling moments of delight for the audience to catch their breath. Most of it stems from the hearty atmosphere of the four friends, whose personable exchanges make for several revealing moments of humanity in the underbellies of these iconic figures, far from the lights and luster of the media, but the extent of the dramatic opposition can’t be undersold. In fact, King knows just how far to exploit it without compromising the sweet of the contrary, allowing this just enough heft in social commentary without soiling the atmosphere of the picture for those engaged in it.
– First act blunders. Easily the weakness within the film’s three act structure is the opening half hour, whose spontaneity in capturing all four of these figures one at a time occasionally draws down the movie’s pacing on the way to setting up the framing device for the rest of the film. Coincidentally, this is the only time during the film where the biopic felt standard and conventional to the overstuffed subgenre of films that we’ve gotten alone over the last twenty years of cinema, complete with obvious story direction and cliche similarities that make this a bit of a trivial initial investment when seeking a plot that is as fresh and innovative as the one promised throughout the movie’s marketing. It does eventually fix itself in the second and third acts, but those are done so remarkably well that the first feels like the obviously inferior product to its successors.
– Brown’s arc. This was the single biggest problem for me during the film, and one that dramatically undervalued Jim Brown’s adversity in measure to his three counterparts. In fact, Jim’s arc begins with a scene with a family friend (Played by the legendary Beau Bridges) that seems to set into motion the next series of events for him over the next two hours that will eventually lead to the brush of clarity he so desperately seeks while battling systematic racism. That evolution does come, but we don’t see the elements that make it along the way, just the beginning and end, which feels more sudden and anti-climatic than it would if it studied the character’s psychology more firmly in the focus of the film for the duration. Because Ali, X, and Cooke are each given ample time to battle their respective conflicts internally, Brown’s character feels all the more underwritten, and misses an opportunity for a fan of Brown’s, like me, who wanted to see his documented adversities on the big screen where they belong.
My Grade: 8/10 or A-