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One Night in Miami…
Sounds like somethin…
Cassius Clay, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Malcolm X walk into a bar. Cassius and Malcolm don’t order anything.
The film introduces us to the four principal characters, one at a time. The opening sequence for Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) is shocking. Its effectiveness lies in the film’s deft pacing from the outset: Cassius Clay’s (Eli Goree) and Sam Cooke’s (Leslie Odom Jr.) introductions were uptempo and straightforward. Brown’s sequence slows it down, letting us settle into a gentle moment before hitting us with reality just barely out of sight. Jab, jab, left hook, mat. I’ll let the scene speak for itself since to quote it would be to lessen its power.
One Night in Miami (2020) is a fictional account of the night of February 25th, 1964, After a 22-year-old Cassius Clay knocks out world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Four paragons of Black excellence lock themselves into Malcolm X’s (Kinsley Ben-Adir) motel room and grapple with their past, present, and future. In one jarring exchange, Malcolm X is grilling Sam Cooke for not using his voice in music to do more for Black causes, X puts on a record of the Bob Dylan song Blowin’ in the Wind and asks Cooke why a White man from Minnesota has written a better song about the cause than he ever has. In a lighter scene, Clay razzes Brown for taking a role in a Hollywood movie (wherein he predictably dies early on.)
There’s little use in describing the action of the film. It’s a chamber play of sorts that is excellently written, scored, acted, and filmed. It goes down smoothly, and this isn’t just a pleasant expression, leaves you wanting more. My only complaint is that the entire runtime wasn’t entirely dedicated to the four main characters debating in the room.
Regina King directs a script by Kemp Powers, who also wrote the stage play of the same title. The confidence at work in the writing and directing makes it surprising that the play is a debut from Powers, and the film is a directorial debut from King. In an interview feature for Criterion, Powers calls out his excitement that a “testosterone-heavy play” might have its blind spots made up for by a woman in the director’s chair.
One Night in Miami… isn’t the first film or play to suppose a meeting of historical greats (my personal favorite being Picasso at the Lapin Agile), but it might be one of the best. The film winds tension up and releases it on a regular cadence; in the grand tradition of Hollywood, it allows us to be entertained while making points that land softly, potentially without us knowing. It’s a film that prefers the carrot to the stick, which is ironic given the presence of Malcolm X and Cassius Clay. It seems that the film prefers the approach of Sam Cooke and Jim Brown, but you’ll have to hear the arguments and decide for yourself.
One Night in Miami…
Written by Kemp Powers; Directed by Regina King.
Stray Thoughts from the Editor
Happy Black History Month! It’s hard to believe it’s already coming to an end, but Black excellence in film never stops, and there’s plenty more in the near future. Like we’d let a month decide when we watch movies. Psh. Especially February.
February 25th (the night this film takes place) is tomorrow, so celebrate accordingly and check this one out.