One Night in Miami: LFF Film Review

One Night in Miami

Regina King‘s directorial debut One Night in Miami received a lot of hype following its debut at the Venice Film Festival and it has been one of the main draws at film festivals ever since, so naturally, my expectations for it were pretty high.

The film, based on Kemp Powers‘ play of the same name, is a fictional account of a real night – 25 February 1964. It imagines what happened between four real-life celebrity friends – civil rights activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), American football player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) – as they celebrate Clay’s surprise title win over Sonny Liston in a Miami hotel room.

You can certainly tell this is based on a play, as it is primarily set in one location and it is very dialogue-heavy – it’s mostly just four guys talking in one room – but the writing is so, so good. I was gripped listening to their heated discussions about race, such as trying to appeal to white people as well as black (in Cooke’s case). Even though the imagined conversations are set in 1964, they are as poignant and relevant as ever today. It also deals with Clay’s impending decision to announce his conversion to Islam and become Muhammad Ali and X’s intention to leave the Nation of Islam.

The quality of the writing is equally matched by the stellar performances. I’m sure a couple of these actors will get awards recognition for their work here. My favourite was Odom Jr. as Cooke. He nailed his singing voice, sang absolutely beautifully (which shouldn’t have been a surprise given his Hamilton background, but still), and he had the most obviously passionate part, with his intense debate with Malcolm X about his music career being one of the most gripping. Ben-Adir was also excellent in his serious, considered performance as the religious leader. Goree looked the part and brought great swagger and charm as Ali, high on his win. I’m less informed about Brown as a public figure but Hodge still brought his A-game.

One Night in Miami deserves a lot of praise because it is a strong debut for King, who has summoned top-tier performances out of her cast, but I do think it’s been a bit overhyped. It is very good and I didn’t come away disappointed, don’t get me wrong, but it feels like one of those classic awards contender films that get great buzz now and then get forgotten about.

Seen as part of the London Film Festival. It will have a limited cinema release in December before going on Amazon Prime Video in January

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.