TIFF 2020: One Night in Miami Review – Regina King Directorial Debut

Leslie Odom Jr. stars in ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI. Photo Credit: Patti Perret/Amazon Studios

One Night in Miami, a revisionist history film, features writer Kemp Powers’ fictional interpretation of a real meeting that took place between Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay (who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) during one of the pinnacle moments of civil rights in 1964. The four Black icons were all at a pivotal point in their careers; two would be extremely short-lived.  

On February 25, 1964, Clay (Eli Goree) unexpectedly defeated Sonny Liston and became the heavyweight champion of the world. Cooke was struggling to break through the Billboard top 50, as well as to gain the affection of his live audiences. Malcolm X was preparing to leave the Nation of Islam group. Jim Brown left professional football to pursue a career as an action star in Hollywood. 

(L-R) Leslie Odom Jr., Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Aldis Hodge star in ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI. Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

One Night in Miami is centered around the evening with the four holed up in Malcolm X’s hotel room at the Hampton House Hotel. The hotel is located in one of Miami’s historically Black neighborhoods. The men are in a partying mood; the conversation is initially full of witty banter with Cooke and Brown looking for alcohol and snacks. Oddly, vanilla ice cream is all that Malcolm X is able to offer them. The conversation quickly turns serious as Malcolm X is determined to convince them to utilize their iconic status to shed light on the civil rights abuses within the Black community. 

King and cinematographer, Tami Reiker, adeptly present the hotel room in a cramped, unpretentious and unglamorous manner, enhancing the uncomfortable setting for heated dialogue. When the characters get a breath of fresh air on the roof, the tone of the film also changes to relaxed and friendly. Toward the end of the scene, the conversation becomes heated as the four head back into the hotel room; an interesting scene transition decision by King. 

Kingsley Ben-Adir, Leslie Odom Jr, Aldis Hodge and Eli Goree in One Night in Miami, directed by Regina King. Image courtesy of TIFF and Amazon Studios.

Hamilton fans can attest that Odom Jr is a major music talent. His film performance is equally captivating as an initially uninspiring yet sympathetic crooner. The film assumes Cooke’s background as a businessman/producer and is somewhat scant on development of this character. However, Odom Jr is able to hold his own, leaving the audience with goosebumps during the final scene.  

The timeliness of this One Night in Miami is poignant in somewhat illustrating the stark similarities (then and now) to racial and ethnic inequality. The film is a formidable, yet narrow, expression in exploring the political narrative.

One Night in Miami will be released on Amazon Prime. 

About Jillian Dale 22 Articles
Film festival coverage and digital content ninja.

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