Snoot Entertainment/ABKCO/Amazon Studios
Directed by Regina King
Screenplay by Kemp Powers
Based on “One Night In Miami” by Kemp Powers
Produced by Jess Wu Calder/Keith Calder/Jodi Klein
Music by Terence Blanchard
Cinematography by Tami Reiker
Edited by Tariq Anwar
Not being a filmmaker, I can only imagine how a director would go about directing a movie where the main characters are not one, not two, not three but four larger than life African-American men who in the 1960s were the undisputed demi-gods of their chosen professions or in the case of Malcolm X, his spiritual calling. But Regina King pulls it off with the strength, confidence and energy of a long-time director. I know that she’s directed some TV shows and this is her first film but I find it hard to believe that’s so. There are directors who have been directing movies for thirty years who have yet to make a movie as good as this one.
But then again, when you start out with a premise as big as the one in ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI… you better come at it with confidence and strength because that’s the only way to tell what I was delighted to find is a movie of touching intimacy and honesty at times about four remarkable men who found themselves with an extraordinary amount of money, power and influence at a period of American history both pivotal and volatile.
It’s February 25th, 1964 and Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) has defeated Sonny Liston to become undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. There to cheer him on are his friends Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adair) Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.) After the fight the four meet up in Malcolm X’s hotel room for what they think is going to be a night of partying. But Brother Malcolm has a surprise for them as he confronts each of his friends about their roles as Black Men in America, challenging their public images and asking probing, insightful questions with the skill of a psychological surgeon.
Malcolm isn’t just busting their chops for the fun of it. He is beset by enemies on all sides. He’s followed by F.B.I. agents and his position within The Nation of Islam is on the thinnest of ice. His confidence and belief in the leadership of The Nation has his spirit in a turmoil and one can’t help but feel that during this long night, Malcolm is trying to ignite the same fever he has for social activism in his friends so that they can step up and be leaders as he seems to sense his days are numbered.
I felt a familiarity in the way the men talked to each other as I recalled as a boy listening to grown men in my Bed-Stuy neighborhood discuss, argue and debate the same issues Clay, Malcolm, Brown and Cooke talk about in this movie. There’s a freedom in the way these men talk to each that has an honesty that can’t be faked. I have no idea if this night actually happened but the way it’s presented in this movie, it should have.
All of the actors are magnificent in their performances. I know that if anybody asked me to play Malcolm X after Denzel Washington and Nigel Thatch (he plays Brother Malcolm in the Epix series “Godfather of Harlem”) I’d tell them to go find somebody else. But that’s because I’m easily intimidated. Kingsley Ben-Adair wisely doesn’t try to imitate either one of those actors. He goes right to the source and uses body language and voice to craft his own incarnation of Malcolm X that is different enough from those other two actors that it’s not an imitation of either of them but at the same time, I fully believed this was the same man.
Aldis Hodge and Eli Goree do the same thing in playing Jim Brown and Cassius Clay. Hodge especially is good at channeling the spirit of Jim Brown. He gets that it’s the unique way Jim Brown talks, how he draws out some words and phrases and how he lets his body do his talking for him sometimes. He also has that way Jim Brown holds his head when he’s thinking that also communicates exactly how he’s feeling. Eli Goree nails the fast-talking, playful side of Cassius Clay excellently and also is just as good in his more serious scenes where he, of all people is thrust into the role of peacemaker when the arguments between Malcolm X and Sam Cooke gets a little too heated. Leslie Odom, Jr. is on fire from start to finish as he’s just about sick of Malcolm’s shit and is not about to let his friend make him feel guilty for being a success.
For all the outstanding production values and discussing of weighty issues about the responsibility of power, money and fame, the heart of the movie is the relationship between the four men and the moments that resonate with me is the few times when the camera seems to catch Malcolm X by accident with a boyish smile on his face as he’s just enjoying hanging out with his friends. ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI… is a superb movie that allows us to see four extraordinary gifted men as just men and friends. By the time the end credits rolled I felt like I’d been hanging out with them myself and wished I could have hung out longer. Highly Recommended.
Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video
I also recommend that you check out the excellent Netflix documentary “The Two Killings of Sam Cooke” as much of that movie also deals with the friendship between these four men. You can find my review of that movie HERE.