3.5 out of 5 stars
All four of the historical figures in One Night in Miami deserve or have had films made about their extraordinary lives. The length of their time on this earth varied significantly, but all managed to profoundly impact world history. To think that boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir ), NFL hall of famer Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) were actually friends seems to be something of a fantasy. Yet, they did have their reel life connections, which led to playwright Kemp Powers writing a fictional account of one night where their unlikely worlds potentially collided.
On February 25, 1964, Cassius Clay became the world's heavyweight champion with a surprise win over Sonny Liston. The epic battle occurred in Miami with Jim Brown commentating, Sam Cooke watching on with his wife and Malcolm X in attendance as Clay’s spiritual mentor. After the fight, the Nation of Islam leader invited all three men to come back to his hotel room at Hampton House for a celebratory party for the newly crowned champion. Unbeknownst to the small group of revellers, this would not be a celebration involving alcohol, women or music. It was meant to be the announcement of Clay’s conversion to Islam along with a rallying plea from the Muslim leader for these influential African-Americans would take a stand for the black cause.
As each man tries to consider how he will respond to this unorthodox gathering, the conversations became an introspective time for each of them. Clay begins to weigh out the impact of this significant decision on his young life and Malcolm does his best to convince the boxer that he is making the right choice. While the mentor tries to keep the knowledge of his decision to leave the Nation quiet, a drastic step due to the corrupt nature of the religious group’s leadership. While maintaining his protege in the Islamic fold, the passionate speaker tries to recruit Cooke and Brown to use their positions in society to stand for black Americans' civil rights. The requests, emotions and conversations cut close to the bone for each man. As the night comes to a close, each leaves the small hotel room a changed man.
One twist to this production is that the woman behind the camera is one of Hollywood's most celebrated actresses. Academy Award-winner Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk) takes on the massive undertaking of preserving these historical icons' reputations while delivering an engaging film. By mixing in actual events and relationships with Kemp Powers' well-crafted fictitious words, this screenplay honours each man and humanises these historical figures. It becomes a fascinating character analysis of possibilities by adding depth to each of these men beyond what most people might perceive from their storied past.
Beyond the well-written script, the first time director benefits from exceptionally talented actors who manage to embody these public figures' true-to-life personas. Goree and Hodge reintroduce the world to these noteworthy athletes with their physical presence, but even more convincingly with their ability to capture their speaking styles and inner turmoil. Still, this production's true tentpoles are built on Leslie Odom Jr. and Kingsley Ben-Adir's performances. The Hamilton alum shows off his ability to interject his outstanding musical skills into an emotionally driven role. While Ben-Adir delivers something that most other films have failed to depict about the civil rights leader. He balances the man’s passionate drive while conveying a humanity that is not usually portrayed in Malcolm X's life.
Audiences could dismiss One Night in Miami as another project that has caught the Black Lives Matter movement wave, which would be unfortunate. Regina King has delivered a poignant and fascinating story that shows the strengths and weaknesses of all involved. This semi-historical narrative proves to be engaging, educational and entertaining for those interested in the considerations of reimagined history.
REEL DIALOGUE: Where to go for life’s direction?
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another – Proverbs 27:17
At the heart of One Night in Miami is the question of how we make life decisions. Despite being at the top of their fields, they are looking for or need someone to mentor them. Cassius Clay looks to Malcolm X for guidance and the civil rights leader wants to direct the path of the other men in the room. Even though their relationships are tenuous and laden with emotional twists, their conversations open the door to many of life’s more significant questions.
And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also – 2 Timothy 2:2
Mentorship and training are seen throughout the Bible. Jesus had his disciples, but a fascinating study can be found in Paul and Timothy's coaching relationship. Some of the most personal letters were written by the apostle to his trainee. These men set a precedence for the value of an older individual investing in the life of someone younger. The allegiance between Paul and Timothy benefits trainees today and does lead to the very thing that genuinely helps mankind.