There isn't much that Regina King can't do. In the last year alone, the 49-year-old actress won an Emmy (HBO's "The Watchmen") and an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress for "If Beale Street Could Talk"). Now, she takes a turn in the director's chair, heading up the film adaptation of the stage play of the same name, "One Night in Miami," proving that there are no limits to her unquestionable talents.
The play (and the screenplay adaptation) comes from Kemp Powers, who also is the screenwriter credited with another Christmas Day 2020 release, Pixar's "Soul." It's a fictitious story set in 1964 that imagines four black men at the tops of their respective games, hanging out in a Miami hotel room at the height of the Civil Rights movement.
Maybe you've heard of them: There's The Nation of Islam leader, Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Hall of Fame NFL star, Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Heavyweight Champion boxer, Cassius Clay (soon-to-be Muhammad Ali, played by Eli Goree) and recording sensation Sam Cooke ("Hamilton" star Leslie Odom Jr.). They gather after watching Clay knock-out Sonny Liston, and once they're all in one place, they begin dissecting the world around them and what each of their roles might - or should - be.
Malcolm X acts as the spark for much of the film, with Sam Cooke on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Ali and Brown sit idly by while the other two trade barbs, but they all end up having a say. The film does a great job of giving us an equal balance of scenes with all four of them, and then other scenes where we get to see one-on-one interaction between each of the four men. King does a tremendous job of staging the film, given that it mostly takes place within four walls of a dank hotel room. Watching the actors inhabit their roles and breathe life into these iconic figures is where most of the fun derives from.
Of them, Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X and Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke stand out, if only because they are given much of the meat to chew on. Looming over the entire imagined night is the reality that would follow...within a year of when this movie would have taken place, both Sam Cooke and Malcolm X would be brutally murdered, their voices forever silenced. "One Night in Miami" makes sure they both are heard loud and clear.
The real theme of "One Night in Miami" is power. All four of these men have reach a once-unimaginable level of power and influence in their respective fields of expertise. The main issue at hand is: Now what? As these men try to convince the others of their standpoints on the issues - and how they should all be using their power - you realize that the most potent cocktail is probably a portion of each philosophy. The Civil Rights movement was only able to gain momentum and longevity due to the contributions of many different men and women of color, all approaching things from slightly different angles - or like X and Cooke - from completely opposite angles.
Like most plays that are adapted for the big-screen, "One Night in Miami" is conversation-driven and not much to look at other than the central four performances. In this case, that is way more than enough to make this one night you won't easily forget.
Run Time: 1 hour 50 minutes.
Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Lance Reddick, Michael Imperioli, Joaquina Kalukango.
Written by Kemp Powers (who also wrote Pixar's "Soul")
Directed by Regina King (feature-film debut).
"One Night in Miami" is available on Amazon Prime on Christmas Day, 2020.
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