TIff Movie Review: “One Night in Miami”

Year: 2020
Runtime: 110 Minutes
Writer: Kemp Powers
Director: Regina King
Stars: Leslie Odom Jr., Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, and Aldis Hodge

By Rosa Parra

Reviewing a female-directed film is the perfect way for ITOL to initiate our Toronto International Film Festival coverage. Directed by Regina King (TV’s “Watchmen”), “One Night in Miami” takes a look at the fictional night where boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree of “Riverdale”), singer and producer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr. of “Hamilton”), human rights activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir of “Peaky Blinders”), and NFL player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge of “Clemency”) spent time together after Clay defeated Sonny Liston in February 1964. 

These four icons are introduced by each facing unpleasant situations. Clay (better known as Muhammad Ali) is knocked out during a boxing match. Cooke anticipates his debut performance at the Copacabana, only to receive bothersome looks and quite a few attendees leaving. Brown receives a warm welcome visiting a close friend but is quickly reminded of reality when he’s prohibited to enter a house because he’s black. Lastly, Malcolm X goes home to his wife, trying to figure out a way to leave the Nation of Islam. 

The chemistry between the four men is impeccable. Aided by a clever script, which I hope earns an Academy Award nomination, as well as the costume and production design, this film engrosses its audience into this period. The film takes a little time to take off, but once it does, you’ll be captivated by the exquisite performances. Although Ben-Adir as Malcolm X is a standout, his performance isn’t possible without the talents of the other three men alongside him, especially Odom, who won a Tony award for his performance in “Hamilton.” Don’t be surprised if any of these men receive awards recognition for their performances.

The smart script by Kemp Powers, based on his stage play, presents the various issues these four historically influential men face.

The smart script by Kemp Powers, based on his stage play, presents the various issues these four historically influential men face. Their various walks of life enrich the diverse perspectives concerning political, social, religious, and economic issues, just to name a few. They debate whether celebrities should give their views on politics, and if so, how should they utilize their platforms. Most of the film takes place in a single hotel room, and King’s direction enables the audience to feel like a fly in that room.

Although this meeting never actually occurred, the script brilliantly emphasizes a complex range of viewpoints from these characters, sparking my curiosity, wondering what would’ve come about had the encounter transpired. Among their many conversations, one in particular stayed with me. Malcolm X and Cooke question each other’s accomplishments by cross-examining their tactics, leaving both men conflicted as they realize who ultimately benefits from their success. I was unexpectedly hesitant to choose a side as both justified their actions with strong arguments.

There’s no doubt King displayed potential in her feature film directorial debut. I can’t wait to see her next directed feature film. Some aerial shots are memorable, plus her ability to immerse the audience in the room is admirable. By the end, I was mesmerized by the performances, but I was further captivated by the intelligent, informative approach depicting significant — and sadly, relevant — issues. Learning to co-exist with those who may think differently from us — or at least attempting to do so — is a valuable lesson because if we unite for a common cause, the unimaginable is possible. 

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