One Night in Miami (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 110 Minutes
Director: Regina King
Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odum Jr
In 2013, Journalist and Music Critic premiered his first creative piece in the name of One Night in Miami. For those unfamiliar with the play, it acts as a fictionalised account of one night in 1964 when four of the most iconic figures in the Civil Rights Movement met together one night after a glorious boxing victory. Being the successful and acclaimed play that launched Kemp Powers creative career followed with writing and co-directing gigs on Star Trek: Discovery, and Pixar’s Soul, One Night in Miami has finally been given the filmmaking treatment. Also serving as the big directorial debut for esteemed actress, Regina King, and being adapted by Powers himself from his own screenplay, this movie has the tough task of adapting a play set in mostly just a single location and translating it into the visual-audio medium in a way that would be truly compelling and visceral. And through all the hardships, One Night in Miami is a very solidly made Drama that might be held back by the general restraints of its Stage Play counterpart, but still nonetheless provides an excellent masterclass in terrific dialogue and performances.
It is 1964 during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement where black people in America were still struggling in a world full of racial segregation. Four of the most historical public figures during this movement, Malcolm X, Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali), Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke, all come for a get-together in Miami to celebrate Clay’s success in the boxing ring and his decision to become a Muslim. However, as the evening continues, friction comes between these friends and how they feel about each other and their contributions to society.
One Night in Miami has a great opening which introduces us to our main leads and how their lives are up to this point in life in the heights of the Civil Rights Movement. Even though they live almost completely different lives, you sympathise with them really well individually from their introductions based on the racism you see around them and how they are taking things personally. The film is able to capture all of this in a way that feels very rich and authentic, but also slightly subtle in ways too. Things are never blatantly shown to us as racist, but rather through tiny lines of dialogue or through small insert shots that give the audience the impression that things aren’t right for these guys. It makes things ultimately very important later on because when all four of these guys talk before witnessing Clay’s boxing match that leads him to be heavyweight champion, we have the right information conveyed to us to help us understand them on a deep level before the 2nd act kicks in and things start to shift.
After Clay wins his title, and these four friends go to their motel room to talk about lives and their contributions to the movement, One Night in Miami takes a completely different turn. In contrast to the opening 30 minutes which feature a variety of locations to get us to know these characters before the big conflict, the second act is mostly spent entirely in this small motel room. It’s from this moment forward where it’s easy to decipher where more of One Night in Miami’s Stage Play origins, since the film then has to try harder to keep the audience invested through mainly the dialogue and performances. And for the most part, the film accomplishes this very well. Because these events and inspired by real life and these figures are so significant in their contributions to the movement, Kemp Powers as the writer takes this golden opportunity to make the dialogue feel as snappy and multifaceted as possible. These are four people who at the end of the day are very fundamentally different individuals, who have the same goals and intentions but rather want to go about things in different ways. It doesn’t take too long for the interactions here to get quite violent and argumentative. It’s down to how Kemp Powers is able to write in a way that gives the film the same dry conflict that an Aaron Sorkin film does that makes One Night in Miami such a riveting film most of the time. The film is a bit restrained and bogged down by the lack of location building most other films have that can make this film quite boring at times, but because there is always something to chew on with the fantastic performances and writing, it’s hard not to fault anything in this film objectively. Regina King also deserves commending for such a solid directing debut. It’s hard for any first time director to make her first film one based on a play with a very limited set of locations. But through strong camerawork and an expansive amount of blocking that uses the locations to the best advantages available, she is able to push out of those Stage Play boundaries to capture these performances from a variety of angles. She has a bright future ahead of her as a director, and it’s only going to get stronger should a successful awards campaign come from this. All of it mixes together to create a fine piece of cinema that is the definition of making the most of very little.
One Night in Miami might be a bit restrained by simple origins that could make it slightly boring or too slow for some viewers, but for those who are willing to stick around, they will be in for a treat with this powerful Historical Drama. Regina King makes the most out of the initial simplicity of the source material, and thanks to layered writing by Kemp Powers and performances that are all potentially awards worthy, One Night in Miami is a powerhouse in filmmaking and acting, even if the combination of the two might not lead to a fully satisfying piece. It’s worth seeing for history enthusiasts who might be interested in seeing a more fictionalised depiction of the events that happened in ‘64, but even then there are more than enough great things to make the film a high recommendation for almost anyone. If this film and Soul have anything to prove about Kemp Powers, it’s that he’s a really strong writer and has a bright future ahead of him as well as Regina King as this serves as a terrific debut for both of them. Give this Amazon Original a watch and see for yourself.
FINAL RATING:- 7/10 (GOOD)