Quick Reviews: 'One Night In Miami...', 'Bacurau' | Regina King's Drama, Wacky Action Western
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI...
Many first time feature directors would shake in their boots just from imagining trying to turn an accomplished stage play to the shape of a film. Many might quit the business altogether when that project includes portraying influential real people during a difficult civil rights movement. Regina King isn’t one of those many directors as her debut, One Night In Miami..., is an ambitious left hook of a movie that surely gets support from her Oscar and Emmy accolades as an actor.
Just like the play, it’s about a fictional night at a hotel in Miami where boxer Cassius Clay a.k.a Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and football player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) end up hanging out together, eventually talking about their careers, faith and standings in the fight for civil rights of black people. Outstanding portrayals, confident leadership of King and razor-sharp dialogue cut very deep in a showcase that you can’t look away from.
In the beginning there’s a slight adjustment period going on in regards to what ’’Miami’’ wants to be, with some scenes that introduce the people separately and which I assume are not in the original play due to locations. But as soon as the four end up at the hotel, the film kicks into gear.
Every year, you can count by hand the movies that just are driven by the force of the actors and this is one of them. Hodge shines during moments between lines (his opening scene at the ranch, wow) and Goree knocks out the bigger-than-life gleam of Clay with infectious energy. Ben-Adir commands the dramatic parts with his Malcolm X while Odom Jr. obviously gets the showy role with his swooning tunes which are magnificent. His Cooke also plays as the link between how the film uses the soundtrack both on top of and within the scenes, whether that is Malcolm making a point about Sam pandering to white audiences instead of writing from the heart or the ending performance which encapsulates the basis of the quartet’s conversations.
99% of the time you talk about world-class portrayals, you also need to talk about the director guiding them. Reflecting on King being an actor herself would be the easy way out because the cinematic language comes through as well. The ways the actors move around the space, how they are positioned depending who is ’’winning’’ the argument and how lines aren’t always perfect when tensions are high, are the successful formulas here. Much of it is down to the dialogue which has natural flaws and also gives way to reactions when necessary.
How a viewer finds an adaptation from stage to film to be cinematic is even more subjective than usual but I’d argue ’’Miami’’ to be quite a success when it comes to that. You can use other locations (there’s a boxing sequence as well as a concert), wild angles to shoot from and cut away from actors to leave something for the audience like the film does. Some structural problems surface after a while in the hotel room as it veers towards familiarity but the actors keep you engaged through it.
Smileys: Performance by a cast, directing, dialogue, soundtrack
Frowneys: Minor issues with structure
Talking about some of the nitty-gritty of the quartet’s conversations, and how each of them consider themselves to be helping when it comes to civil rights of black people in the 60s, feel more appropriate for an essay than for a review but there is still a lot to think about. Notably, how Sam’s explanation of the importance of ''owning the masters of your songs'' alongside financial success is his way to show true freedom, as it fascinatingly collides with Malcolm’s more straightforward speeches and leadership.
When in despair, it turns out to be Brazil that comes through with your oddball western as you might be looking for one. Directing and writing duo Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles' Bacurau is set in the country’s northern parts in a fictional town of the same name, where strange occurrences begin to happen after a notable figure and citizen passes away. There’s a lack of phone signal, sightings of flying saucers in the sky, town’s disappearance on online maps and unnoticed bullet holes in a water truck. You as a viewer are placed into the local community to find out what is causing all of this as the film keeps taking unexpected turns while providing excellent thrills in the cat-and-mouse game of tension and release. A lot of that will keep your eyes on the action while the social commentary offers some thinking afterwards.
Bacurau has the immense ability to immediately stand on its own which is extremely enjoyable to sit through when watching a film. It clearly comes from pure frustration of politics and economic inequality which is evident in an early scene where the local mayor comes into town whom the residents aren’t very keen on. When you tap into that kind of specificity, the storytelling has a strong shoulder to lean on. Visually that picture is also well composed as the filmmakers clearly have fun with camera lenses, techniques, the town’s local musician and moody lighting at night time. The uncertainty of it all however is the thing that intrigues, the movie changes perspectives unexpectedly and very quickly at times so its twists land much harder than usual.
Despite being set in the near future, Bacurau feels quite contemporary, perhaps to show that for poorer places in the country not much has changed. The film is also at its strongest when the focus is on local people, more specifically during more thriller-y moments (scene at the farm, final showdown are highlights). Whenever we cut to the ’’Americans’’, led by animated Udo Kier (as Michael), it’s much less interesting and poignant. The dialogue is especially pretty subpar as a lot of the English spoken is actually hard to understand because the delivery is lazy (in real life you’d have to ask people to repeat themselves) and it’s more slogans than anything.
In the town, characters like Pacote (Thomas Aquino), Teresa (Bárbara Colen) and Domingas (Sônia Braga) are much better written, however the movie could have benefitted from stronger acting by the cast. One who stood out was Silvero Pereira as the wanted criminal Lunga, Pereira had tremendous charisma as the character also had bigger-than-galaxy luminosity, not to mention the mullet which was just the cherry on top.
Smileys: Originality, atmosphere, premise, Silvero Pereira
Also some surprisingly gnarly gore if you’ve missed that in your previous westerns.