Regina King makes her triumphant blockbuster directorial debut with a film that astonishes from start to finish which tells a story that will live on for generations to come. One Night in Miami derives its story from Kemp Powers’ stage play also entitled, One Night in Miami which debuted in 2013 and told the tale of a legendary moment that occurred on February 25, 1964. Kemp Powers also finds himself in the writer’s chair to construct the film’s screenplay and he does not disappoint by delivering one powerful gem after another. The film stars Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke respectively. Each performer gives it their absolute all in riveting performances that truly capture the essence of the legendary figure they are tasked with playing. From King’s directorial techniques, to Power’s masterful script, to Terence Blanchard’s exuberant score, and great performances at all levels, One Night in Miami exudes an intangible sense of style and mystique that genuinely makes it stand out as easily one of the best films of 2021.
One Night in Miami is the fictional telling of a true event that took place at the Hampton House in Miami on February 25, 1964. However, our story begins a year prior in 1963 with four legendary icons across the spectrum of the world stage who are all going through radical changes and facing the harsh realities of being black in America in the 1960s. Professional boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) barely scrapes by with a victory against Henry Cooper (Sean Monaghan), soul singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) bombs during a performance at the Copacabana in front of all an all-white audience, NFL fullback Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) returns home to Georgia and meets with an old friend named Mr. Carlton (Beau Bridges) who promptly reminds him how most of white America viewed black people, and Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) discusses the potential of leaving the Nation of Islam with his wife, Betty (Joaquina Kalukango). A year later, just before Cassius is set to fight Sonny Liston (Aaron D. Alexander) for the title of world heavyweight champion, all of the men fly out to Miami to cheer him on. After Cassius’ legendary upset victory over Sonny, Malcolm sets up a plan and invites everyone back to his room at the Hampton House motel for a celebration. Unfortunately, upon their arrival, the festivities are not quite what they had anticipated. For the remainder of the night, emotions run high and heated conversations on racial inequalities to social change are brought forth. And all the while, each gentleman learns that they are all fighting the same fight by taking part in trying to bring civil rights to black America one step at a time.
The laundry list of strengths One Night in Miami possesses is long, but one area that must be fully addressed stems from the brilliant performances of the cast. Any film that depicts real events and real-life figures almost always lives and dies by the person (or persons) portraying the historical figure(s). Fortunately, every single lead actor does an outstanding job at bringing these legendary icons to life on the screen. Everyone clearly did their homework when it came to researching and understanding the individual person they would be playing. From their speech patterns and general rhetoric, to their mannerisms while walking and talking, everyone finds a way to perfectly embody their role making them disappear into the character right before our eyes. As individuals they are great, but together they are exceptional. The on-screen chemistry between all of the performers radiates through the engaging character banter and character interactions they share throughout the two-hour runtime of the film. From the good times to the bad times, the emotional weight exhibited by each actor pulls you into the scene and never lets you go. However, the film does not stop there. One Night in Miami gives us a different peek into the complexities of these individuals who have been portrayed in one light all throughout history. The film takes us on a ride that keeps our eyes and minds glued to the screen which is a direct result of Ben-Adir, Goree, Hodges, and Odom Jr.’s magnificent acting talents. It is a breath of fresh air that is sure to put a smile on your face as you watch what could have very well happened behind the closed doors of the historical Hampton House.
Kemp Powers being the mastermind behind the film’s outstanding writing should come as no surprise given his close intimacy with the subject matter as being the first person to shed light on this historic moment. As someone who has never seen the original stage performance, I can not say as a matter of fact if the character dialogue is directly lifted from the pages of the screenplay or if any of the moments are the exact same. However, what must be said about One Night in Miami is that it truly exists as a masterclass in writing. Not a single moment is wasted throughout the film as every scene opens up a compelling dialogue between everyone involved. Every word and phrase spoken carries an immense amount of weight with it that permeates through the screen. Circling back to the brilliance of the film’s characters, because of their distinct outlooks, no perspective on the struggle of black people in America is thrown to the wayside. Every opinion, problem, and solution is placed before the audience that will have you reflecting on the horrid history of this nation; and it does it all without ever shedding a drop of blood and resorting to scenes of brutality because you can feel the trauma, sadness, and anger in every last one of their voices. Yet, this film is not just a period piece that depicts what the state of America used to be, as the fabric of those societal issues is still being felt and discussed across this country to this day. With all of that being said, One Night in Miami had me enthralled from its very opening moments due most in part by Powers’ excellent writing on all fronts.
One Night in Miami is an absolute achievement in filmmaking that should not be missed by anyone. Regina King’s stellar work behind the camera leaves me wanting more and is an excellent sign of things to come. Kemp Powers’ fantastic screenplay delivers a narrative with strong characters that will stick with you well after the credits have rolled. Kingsley Ben-Adir’s piercing performance, Eli Goree’s on-screen charisma, Aldis Hodge’s stoic assuredness, and Leslie Odom Jr.’s multi-talented skillset all work in tandem to bring every icon they are portraying to life with flying colors. This is a film centered around black history but not solely based around it, as on a grander scale it is about the tragedies and failures of American history. One Night in Miami is without question the first truly great film of 2021 and something that I can not recommend enough.