Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X
Eli Goree as Muhammad Ali
Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown
Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke
Joaquina Kalukango as Betty Shabaz
Nicolette Robinson as Barbara Cooke
Beau Bridges as Mr. Carlton
Lance Reddick as Brother Kareem
Michael Imperioli as Angelo Dundee
Jerome A. Wilson as Elijah Muhammad
Amondre D. Jackson as L.C. Cooke
Aaron D. Alexander as Sonny Liston
One Night in Miami Review:
In just three years at trying his hand as a screenwriter on the hit CBS All Access series Star Trek: Discovery and Pixar’s latest acclaimed effort Soul, Kemp Powers has quickly established his voice as one of the most insightful and intelligent in Hollywood, especially in regards to looking to authentically capture the Black experience in America. Prior to becoming a screenwriter, Powers was a playwright and made his debut with the historically-inspired One Night in Miami and eight years later it has found its way to the screen with Regina King at the helm in her directorial debut and deftly illustrates she was exactly the right talent to translate the powerful material for film.
Set on the night of February 25, 1964, One Night in Miami follows a young Cassius Clay (before he became Muhammad Ali) as he emerges from the Miami Beach Convention Center the new World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. Against all odds, he defeated Sonny Liston and shocked the sports world. While crowds of people swarm Miami Beach to celebrate the match, Clay – unable to stay on the island because of Jim Crow-era segregation laws – instead spends the night at the Hampton House Motel in one of Miami’s historically black neighborhoods celebrating with three of his closest friends: activist Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke and football star Jim Brown. The next morning, the four men emerge determined to define a new world for themselves and their people.
While the titular night’s events may become fictional after Cassius’ victory over Liston, the character development and conversations shown over the course of the story’s hours nonetheless feels like a truly authentic and captivating glimpse at a point in history. Much like the works of Aaron Sorkin, the film remains crackling with energy and moving steadily in its pace thanks to the dialogue from Powers, who uses his experience as a playwright and his own source material to ensure that every scene, even if confined to one location, never feels dull. A roster of four main characters may not seem overly difficult to properly balance, especially with a runtime of nearly two hours, but even when it feels as though Malcolm X is threatening to outshine and outtalk his fellow Black icons, one of the three take their own command and illuminate their insightful natures.
Powers’ sharp script is only further elevated by the incredible performances on display from its four leads and the absolutely stunning direction from King in her feature debut. Though a film primarily set in a hotel room might sound easy (and cheap) enough to direct for a debut, but King doesn’t settle for a solely minimalist approach as she interweaves her sole-location narrative with a flashy concert flashback and personalized character introductions that show a firm grasp and appreciation for the film’s iconic central characters.
Being an Oscar, Golden Globe and Emmy winner herself and having worked with some of the best directors Hollywood has seen, from John Singleton to Cameron Crowe to Barry Jenkins, King demonstrates a clear understanding of where best to place a camera and sit back while her incredible cast go to work. Odom Jr.’s Sam and Ben-Adir’s Malcolm might occasionally outshine the other two with their constant bickering that’s wholly authentic and compelling, but that doesn’t prevent Goree and Hodge from delivering equally stellar performances that brings them to life in respectful fashions.
One Night in Miami‘s only real flaw lies in the occasionally repetitive arguments between Cooke and X, but thanks to its sharp writing full of powerful modern parallels, breathtaking direction from King and stellar performances from its four leads, this has already set the bar high for every 2021 film to follow.