Inspired by a true story, “One Night in Miami” imagines what happened the night real-life friends Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), football star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), soul singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and heavyweight boxing champ Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) gathered at the Hampton House Motel to celebrate Clay’s victory over Sonny Liston. Over the course of the evening, the men at first are in a celebratory, playful mood, taking lighthearted jabs at each other and enjoying the company. But as the night progresses, the conversations grow more intense, and the four friends have a thoughtful (and confrontational) discussion on race, equality, and the black man’s experience in America.
Set during the Civil Rights movement in 1964, the timeless subject matter unfortunately has just as much relevance almost 60 years later. You could transport these men into modern times and their conversations about racial injustice would sound almost identical to those being discussed by people today. It’s an important story to tell, and Regina King has captured the essence of Kemp Powers‘s play in her feature directorial debut.
Since the film is based on a stage play, it feels very talky. Most of the action takes place within the confines of a motel room, yet it never feels claustrophobic. King gets the men out of the motel for a few scenes, including a show-stopping piece at a Sam Cooke concert that shows off her talented eye for directing.
The insightful script (adapted for the screen by Powers himself) is among the best of the year, and the charismatic young actors carry the dialogue-heavy film with confidence. They’re called on to do a lot of heavy lifting, and every single person in the cast fully becomes the cultural legends they portray. These men make the historical figures come alive with a seemingly effortless chemistry. Every scene plays like natural, realistic banter among friends.
I’m ashamed to admit that this is a story I’ve never heard before. The film assumes that viewers have a familiarity with this important moment in history, so it would be beneficial to read up on the event beforehand so you’ll find a deeper connection with the story. I spent an hour doing research after screening the movie. If you don’t have time, the film is still an excellent way to learn.
“One Night in Miami” may be a fictional account of what was discussed within those walls, but it’s an effective drama about four revolutionary leaders and activists. It’s entertaining, thought-provoking, intelligent, and is sure to spark further discussion, which is precisely why the film is so important.