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‘One Night in Miami’: A conversation between icons

| Monday, March 1, 2021

Diane Park | The Observer

February 25, 1964. Four legends walk into a motel room. The rest is lost to history. 

Based on a true meeting, “One Night in Miami” is a speculative account of what happened the night when Cassius Clay celebrated becoming the heavyweight boxing champion of the world with his three friends: Malcolm X, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke. 

The screenplay was written by Kemp Powers and based on his stage play of the same name. As with most play-to-movie adaptations, the majority of the film is contained within one space — a motel room — with the weight of the story placed on sharp and poignant dialogue. This film is carried by the strong performances of the four main actors, who manage to portray legendary figures with grace and nuance. 

Eli Goree’s infectious charisma as Cassius Clay makes you agree wholeheartedly with Clay’s cocksure declarations that he is “The Greatest,” and Goree completely nails the fighter’s iconic cadence when speaking. Aldis Hodge exudes athleticism and confidence fitting for his portrayal of football star Jim Brown. As Malcom X, Kingsley Ben-Adir is able to balance the activist’s more confrontational, militant side with the side of him that cares deeply about his friends and family. Leslie Odom Jr., who won the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical for his role in “Hamilton,” plays Sam Cooke and is now nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for this performance. Perfectly embodying his role as the King of Soul, Odom Jr. absolutely shines whenever he performs one of Cooke’s songs. 

These actors performed to the best of their ability under the direction of Regina King, who makes her directorial debut with this film. A brilliant performer in her own right and known for her role in the HBO show “Watchmen” and her Oscar-winning performance in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” King’s directorial abilities have earned her a Golden Globe nomination. 

At the heart of this film is the friendship between the four men. “One Night In Miami” does a brilliant job of showing the human side of these legendary figures, and the chemistry between the actors is believable. Light-hearted moments between the characters — like Clay jumping up and down on a motel bed out of excitement over winning the match or Malcolm getting his camera stolen and tossed around by his friends — remind the audience that outside of their status as historical giants, they were just men. This adds an emotional depth to the film and makes the audience care about and relate to their struggles. 

However, outside of the light-hearted moments, all four men struggle with the weight of their fame and the responsibility they feel about using their power to help Black people who don’t have the advantages they do. The most prevalent point of conflict in this film is between Malcolm and Cooke, who are diametrically opposed in their views of how to use their power to help the Black community. 

Although the men are afforded more privileges due to their celebrity status, they’re still faced with the painful reality of discrimination. In a memorable scene near the beginning of the film, Brown visits the home of a white man from his hometown who, after praising Brown for his football successes, proceeds to tell him, “We don’t allow [n-words] in the house.”

As a whole, “One Night In Miami” is a powerful film that unflinchingly confronts issues of the past, some of which are yet to be solved to this day. The fact that the conflicts of a film set in the 1960s still resonate today make it a worthwhile watch for anyone. 

Title: “One Night in Miami”

Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir , Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr. 

Director: Regina King

Genre: Drama

If you like: “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “If Beale Street Could Talk”

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5 

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