“One Night in Miami” stars Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr. Released on December 25, 2020, the film has a group of people hanging out at a Miami hotel room.
The film featured the directorial debut of Regina King, and it is based on the 2013 stage play of the same name by Kemp Powers. What do you get when you put four of the most popular icons in African-American history all in one room? You get a miraculous play debut from writer Kemp Powers, which has now become a movie. Following her continuous success as an actress in film and television, award-favorite Regina King is taking the next step of her superb career: directing her very first feature film. Not just any feature film, however, but a feature film that’s based on a well-received play about a group of well-known African-American legends. If there’s one thing I appreciate from a film, it’s the diversity, both on screen and off. This is another possible awards contender that already premiered last year in a small amount of theaters and has made its way towards a wide release both in theaters and on a streaming service. So far, as of this writing, the reviews for the film have been extremely positive, with the critics praising the story and King’s direction, which should help increase its chance to make an appearance in some of the major awards shows this year. Thankfully, I don’t have to wait too long to see it for myself. My closest cinema is able to show this film today, which gave me an opportunity to check it out before it heads to Amazon Prime Video next weekend. Did I make the right choice? Let’s find out.
The story follows the fictionalized meeting of four African-American icons: human rights activist Malcolm X (Ben-Adir), boxer Muhammad Ali (Goree), football player Jim Brown (Hodge), and singer/songwriter Sam Cooke (Odom Jr.). They meet up in a Miami hotel room to celebrate Ali’s victory over Sonny Liston (Aaron D. Alexander) as well as reflect on their own experiences towards racial problems, and that’s pretty much it. It’s just four guys hanging out in a hotel room for a single night. You might be thinking that this is another play-turned-film in which the entire story takes place in a single location, similar to what “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” did when it comes to the narrative structure. That’s honestly not the case for this one. From what I read about the source material it’s based on, “One Night in Miami” is described as a one-act play in which four characters share the moments of their careers through dialogue in only one location: a small hotel room. The film not only offered that type of structure, but it also expanded upon it in order to further explore these characters before their meeting. This is something that I thought was handled remarkably well because it gives its viewers a clear idea on who these characters are and what they do for a living as well as show them their personal selves. Question is, was it enough to make this night worth remembering? The answer to that is a resounding yes. This is an invigorating and thoughtful depiction of the people behind their legendary personas and the pivotal moment that affected their careers in the African-American community. The only gripes I had with the film, however, were the pacing and the second act. Because of it being a dialogue-driven drama, the film had the tendency to drag a little bit in some moments. I wouldn’t say that it’s boring or anything, but I would say that they could’ve find a way to make those moments a bit shorter. As for the second act, it did feel like I was watching a filmed version of a stage play rather than an actual film at times. Other than that, everything else happened to be top-notch from start to finish. This is another film that showcases its main cast as its greatest strength in terms of their performances and the chemistry between them. Ben-Adir, Goree, Hodge, and Odom Jr. were all given the chance to shine as their respective characters, and unsurprisingly, they didn’t disappoint. Not only were their performances raw and riveting, but their chemistry was fun and believable enough to convince me that they’re imperfect friends with real-life problems. I thought Kingsley Ben-Adir did a marvelous job portraying Malcolm X and matching that character’s mannerisms flawlessly. Eli Goree was highly entertaining as Muhammad Ali, and Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Sam Cooke, continued to represent his wonderful talent as both an actor and a singer. Regina King was given the task to bring Kemp Powers’s play to the screen, which could be a bit challenging given the fact that this was her first film as a director. After watching it for myself, all I can say is that she accomplished that task with ease. Not only did she follow the qualities that made Powers’s play special, but she also delivered on making the dialogue-driven scenes feel realistic, especially during the second act. Speaking of dialogue, the conversations between the main characters were well-written, informative, and pretty engaging, and it’s all thanks to Kemp Powers himself, who has a knack of creating captivating stories set in the African-American community. I honestly couldn’t imagine anyone else writing it besides him. It’s actually quite nice to see someone behind the source material it’s based on write the screenplay for the adaptation because it allowed them to share their own creativity on a different type of media, whether Hollywood agrees with some of their ideas or not. I haven’t seen Powers’s play myself, so I couldn’t compare the two versions, but I do feel that screenplay-wise, Powers is definitely someone I’ll be keeping an eye on in the near future.
Overall, with Regina King behind the camera and its talented cast, “One Night in Miami” is definitely the night that’s worth reminiscing for a long time. Aside from a couple of pacing issues, the film is a thought-provoking and stellar portrayal of the legends we know and the meeting that changed their lives. Thanks to the engrossing performances from the cast, King’s direction, and Powers’s superb screenplay, this is another well-made drama that respectively represents diversity in front of and behind the camera. I would also say that this is another film that offers a lot of stuff for me to take in due to it being a dialogue-driven narrative. There were some stuff that I get, and some stuff that I didn’t understand during my first viewing. I’ll probably revisit the film when it comes out on Prime Video so that I can get a clear picture on the latter, but until then, consider me impressed with how it turned out during my first experience.