Written by: Kemp Powers
Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr.
Putting together influential people in one room allows for some imaginative ideas for how their conversations would go and what they would discuss. Everyone has their dream groupings, but one of the most intriguing ones actually occurred as told in exquisite style in One Night in Miami. By gathering the most influential Black men in this fictionalized idealization of what could have occurred, it presents their struggles, successes, and how their journeys intersected.
Following a highly publicized fight in Miami, Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) invites the newly-crowned champion Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), NFL superstar Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and famous singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) over to his motel room to share in fellowship before celebrating the night. The quartet enjoy some pleasantries, but most importantly speak on their differences in ideologies, which causes tension.
While these four men met in Miami, the conversations in this film falls into the fictional category, as there’s no verified account as to what was spoken. One thing that remains distinguishable is all four of these men were at the height of their power and social standing at the time. All doing different things in various stages of life, but all Black and incredibly successful. The most polarizing of them all certainly being Malcolm X, One Night in Miami allows this character to have the most to do, but narratively, it mostly feels like an even share of the riches as each of these men get a moment to shine.
This conversation took place at the time where Muhammad Ali went by Cassius Clay, as he was on the cusp of joining the Brotherhood of Islam with the help Malcolm X and it truly donned on me just how young this showman was at the time. As he states, he became the champion at 22, which baffles me thinking of the greatness he reached at such a young age and the raw charisma he exuded, captured brilliantly by Eli Goree. He manifests what made Ali someone people would get riled up by and caused endless fascination. This performance becomes integral to the story because he brings all of the energy in the room after having just won the championship and becomes the lubricant for when things get sticky and emotions begin to rise amongst the four men.
With most of the story occurring inside a motel room, the staginess became apparent but it did not matter much because of the level of engagement the story brought and the direction by Regina King. Her shot selections and dynamism displayed great talent behind the camera as she typically displays in front of it. As an actor herself, she knew exactly how to let these men thrive in these roles and place them in the positions to really drive their points home with many coming from the script. Even with these men reaching an incalculable level of success, this film ensures to dig into the insecurities they possess as Malcolm fears for his life and Jim Brown wants to perhaps leave the NFL and go into the world of acting. Even with the confinement of the room, everything happening within it kept the appropriate amount of energy, which should be credited to the director.
When looking at the whole narrative overall, not much happens outside of their conversation in the motel room, as it essentially becomes a hangout before they go party but the sheer magnitude of the personalities made me want to stay in the room for much longer to see what more could be discussed between these influential forces. With the publicity these men received in their lives, everything after this conversation in a motel room can be looked up in history, but having them all in one space just carries such a high level of intrigue and fascination.
Out of a quartet of great performances, the standout amongst them undoubtedly proves to be Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X. While trying to bring a different interpretation to the character as given by Denzel Washington, Bed-Adir harnesses the intellectual and paranoid state Malcolm X found himself in during this time. He receives most of the background as he has conversations with his wife and the fears of being taken out by people of his own organization hangs on his shoulders for a majority of the movie. It’s a respectful and incisive portrayal of this polarizing historical figure and should make others take notice of his abilities.
Plenty of fun with the clashing personalities and incredibly sincere in its efforts, One Night in Miami highlights all the wonderful talent involved with this project. From Regina King directing the four actors at the center of the story, it raises important subjects of the time and allows us to imagine how it would have played out in the real altercation. Watching this feature had me thinking about what other famous quartets could be brought together to hash out their differences, but the idea that this one actually occurred remains truly historic moment and I’m glad we received a taste of what could have taken place.