The 400-Word Review: One Night in Miami
By Sean Collier
January 19, 2021
There’s often a rush to define what, precisely, a film is about. Not the events of its plot, but rather the subject matter that hovers somewhere below the surface — this film is about the American dream, that film is about intergenerational trauma, and so on.
Often, this is appropriate; I’m as guilty of it as anyone. In many cases, though, there is no way to reduce the subject matter and thematic breadth of a film with a simple dispatching of metaphor. “One Night in Miami” is like that. To say that it’s about race or about identity is glib, though Regina King’s handsome film is certainly concerned with those things.
“One Night in Miami,” rather, is truly about the events of its plot — namely, a freewheeling conversation between its famous characters at a pivotal moment in their lives. The snapshot of these mythologized figures is its own subject; it cannot be presented as anything but what it is.
To say it plainly, you just have to see it.
Those famous characters, in this fictionalized account of a real meeting, have come together at pivotal moments for each. Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree) has just upset Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight champion of the world — at a mere 22 years of age. Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) is in the midst of a momentous dispute with the Nation of Islam, while simultaneously trying to convince Ali to convert. Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) is an ascendant star, months away from releasing his most enduring album, “Ain’t That Good News.” And Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) is the biggest star in the NFL, but he’s also made his first appearance in a movie, an adaptation that will change his career.
The setting is an unremarkable Miami hotel on the night of February 25, 1964, immediately following Ali’s victory; Malcolm X was present as the fighter’s spiritual adviser, Brown was providing color commentary for the fight and Cooke was in the crowd.
Undeniably, the setup — both physically and circumstantially — is somewhat theatrical, adapted by Kemp Powers from his own play. King easily overcomes this limitation, teasing movement and grace out of what could easily have been a static story. She also wrings breathtaking performances from her cast, with Goree in particular shining. While it is a bit long, it’s a vivid, striking story.
Again: You just have to see it.
My Rating: 9/10
“One Night in Miami” is streaming on Amazon Prime.