Friday, January 15, 2021

One Night in Miami

Regina King brings Kemp Powers' award-winning play to the silver screen offering a fictionalized account of the gathering of four prominent Black Americans, - Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) one night in Miami after Clay beat Sonny Liston (Aaron D. Alexander) to become the Heavyweight Champion of the World. The contemplative gathering, coordinated by Malcom X, is far from the raucous celebration the others expected, but it delivers dramatic tension aplenty as tempers flare over disagreements on the role of prominent black men in America.

Kemp Powers is on-hand to adapt his own screenplay, and Regina King adds some nice touches here (including showing us some of the Liston/Clay fight) to help set the stage. The real movie takes place once the four men get in a room together. Despite relying on larger-than-life characters, the film doesn't caricaturize them in any way, presenting them of men of the time with strong opinions and passions. Four men alone in a room arguing may not sound like the key to crafting a can't-miss film, but King and Kemp pull it off.

The simple setting, a hotel room far from the wild celebrations happening elsewhere, allows for the focus to remain on the four historical figures gathered together on a momentous night. Cinematographer Tami Reiker makes use of a variety of shots and tricks to keep events unfolding in a visually interesting way despite the lackluster setting as the script allows characters to come and go, breaking tension at times and offering added insight in smaller conversations.

Goree is the straw the stirs the drink. With motivations and machinations for more than celebration in mind, he implores, pleads, attacks, and shames his friends into reexamining their role in the world that celebrates their accomplishments but continues to resent the color of their skin. We see Clay on the verge of publicly joining the Nation of Islam, but not without his doubts. We see friction between Malcolm X and Sam Cooke over how the later uses his power and fame, and we see Brown reject Malcolm X's assertion to use his invaluable skill as leverage to push for real change. While focused on their disagreements and differences, the film never loses what the men have in common and their place in history. Simply put, it's the perfect movie at the perfect time and one of the best films of 2020.

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