Reel Reviews | One Night in Miami

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

Four friends getting together to party in Miami is just a typical night unless those four friends are Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Cassius Clay, and Jim Brown in the drama, One Night In Miami.

February 25, 1964.  Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) has just shocked the world by defeating Sonny Liston and becoming the heavyweight champion of the world.  To celebrate, he meets with three of his best friends, singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and his mentor, Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir).  During the course of the evening, the party becomes a deeply heated conversation about what their fame means to themselves and to their community. 

Kemp Powers (Soul, Star Trek: Discovery) wrote the screenplay for this movie which was inspired by the events of the date but is a fictional account.  It is also the debut directorial effort by Oscar winner Regina King.  One Night In Miami stars Odom Jr., Hodge, Ben-Adir, and Goree along with Lance Reddick, Christian Magby, and Joaquina Kalukango.

The acting performances are extremely powerful in this movie.  Every member of the big four of the cast has their moments to shine.  Kingsley Ben-Adir threatens to steal the movie with his portrayal of the Nation of Islam leader who is haunted by the demons of his convictions.  Yet Leslie Odom Jr. expertly pushes back to Adir’s X to deftly present Sam Cooke’s vision and undeniable economic influence.  Eli Goree captures the look, confidence, and swagger of the young boxing champion from his very first appearance on screen and then shows us a tender and introspective side of the man on the road to faith.  Aldis Hodge rounds out the cast as the young superstar running back who is struggling to break free from the limiting bonds of athletic stardom.

Director King has a great eye for centering focus and giving each artist the room to stand and deliver.  In this her debut piece of work, Ms. King shows wisdom and knowledge about how to let a start shine that she has acquired through decades of working in this industry as a highly talented and accomplished star.  She paces the film well, never letting any one-moment drag too long and keeping the moment in focus.

The true star of the film is the screenplay.  Kemp Powers creates a masterful script that not only speaks reflectively to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s but also to the same movement that exists today.  Many people are aware of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and see them as the only directions for the movement but Powers’ story allows us to observe some of the other ideologies of the civil rights movement back then and how they manifest in the present time.  The point is that there is no one route to equality.  It is an effort that can and must be addressed through several avenues with several different leaders all working toward the same goal.

Not lost in this movie is that the setting is the Hampton House Motel in Miami’s Overlook section of the city.  Because of the Jim Crow laws of the time, there was no way that even these four great icons of the Black Power movement could have met and celebrated in the white-only South Beach or downtown area of Miami.

One Night In Miami is a powerhouse film that drives home the importance of not only equality in some things but equality in all things.  Everyone involved should be proud of this achievement.

Grade:  A-

Check out Tim Gordon’s Reel Review, below: