Check out this episode of the Video Lab Podcast, where myself, Sam, and special guest Maggie Scott discuss this film in more detail.
“One Night in Miami” is based on a 2013 stage production created by Kemp Powers, who is also the writer director of “Soul,” and wrote this screenplay adaptation. The fictional story centers around a real meeting between four major cultural and political icons of the 1960’s.
For full appreciation, the film strongly encourages more than general knowledge of Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, and Malcom X. While heated dialogue between each of the men captures the broad strokes of their lives and ideology, a less than full suite of knowledge of their stories clouds relevant context and depth of more subtle sections.
The first half of the film is a bit slow with biographical setup, but its when all four men are together that the film really finds its stride. As a predominantly single room scene with slower character drama, the strength of “One Night in Miami” is in its stunning performances by Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcom X, Eli Goree as Cassius Clay (before becoming Muhammed Ali), Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke. Since the film is almost entirely focused on contemplating the chance encounter of each of these men alone together at the same time, those performances carry a story in which very little else happens outside of their conversation.
This one room conversation that dominates the movie’s runtime is a limiting format that mirrors the story’s origin on stage, and its used well to concentrate on the power of the character performances. The film adaptation this way represents an unconventional setup that might polarize some viewers based on subjective preferences or expectations.
A successful adaptation and excellent directing debut from Regina King, the film well captures the tension in the black community with the direction of the Civil Rights Movement, with stellar character performances of legends in black history during the tumultuous 60’s. Given that the year 2020 saw the largest protest movement in U.S. history because of police brutality, amongst other issues of racial inequality, “One Night in Miami” feels uniquely pertinent and timely with fictional introspection from major historical figures. One can’t help but wonder what each of these men would have to say about the state of the world today.