Kemp Powers’ stage play One Night In Miami comes to film under the direction of Regina King. It is her finest outing to date, featuring powerful performances in an even more powerful script that make this a film that should not be missed.
It is the evening of February 25th, 1964, and Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) is to fight Sonny Liston for the heavyweight boxing championship of the world. After his victory, he and three other heavyweights in their own right – singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.), football star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) - gather in a motel room to celebrate Clay’s victory. But for X, it is more than a celebration; it is an opportunity to discuss the future, both for themselves and for their people, as the nation begins its march towards true equality.
Playwright Kemp Powers takes on screenwriting duties for the film, and in doing so, he ensures his passion for the subject bleeds through. Whatever may have actually happened in that hotel room, it is easy to believe that these conversations are an accurate representation of the event. They are so natural and precise to the public and private characters of these four influential men. There is a lot of power in the words and not one wasted line.
If the script did have any flaws, King resolved them, throwing her soul into directing the film so that it is clear her passion for this project matches that of the characters on the screen. Every moment, every camera angle, and every expression are perfectly placed. Although it is just four men in a room for a considerable portion of the film, it never gets dull or muddled down in preaching.
The direction was not enough to account for the performances of all four principals. They were not playing the characters so much as becoming them for nearly two hours on the screen. The roles are dual, showing both the public and private faces of these men, and all four excel at both. There is no doubt they closely studied the movements and attitudes to duplicate them well.
Despite the importance of focusing on the characters and the things they were saying, there is excellent attention to detail regarding the time period. The highways, hotels, furniture, and even the background products look like they were plucked fresh from a time machine solely to include them in this film. The cinematographer does an exceptional job of showing it all while keeping the men the film’s focus.
One Night in Miami is not only the story of a fateful evening; it is also a foreshadowing of the next fifty years of faith, struggle, achievement, and setbacks. Even though it was just an evening for the four men, it profoundly affects all of them for many nights to come.