'One Night In Miami' Review
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 (also stylised as 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. Ways the actors move around the space, how are they positioned depending who is ’’winning’’ the argument and how lines aren’t always perfect when tensions are high are the successful formula 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: Whole cast's performances, directing, dialogue, soundtrack
Frowneys: Minor issues with structure
Talking about the actual themes of the four’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. Most notably how Sam’s explanation of how ’’owning the masters to your songs’’ alongside financial success as his way to show true freedom and Malcolm’s more straightforward speeches and collectiveness collide was rather fascinating.