Review: One Night in Miami (2020)

Director: Regina King
Screenwriter: Kemp Powers
Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir; Eli Goree; Aldis Hodge; Leslie Odom, Jr.; Lance Reddick
Genres: Drama, Comedy
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout
Release Dates: 12/25/20 (Theatres); 1/15/21 (Streaming)
Runtime: 1h 50m
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Where to Watch: Amazon
Oscar Nomination(s): Likely–Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Odom, Jr.); Possible–Actor (Ben-Adir), Production Design, Editing, Costume Design, Cinematography; Long-Shot–Actor (Goree), Supporting Actor (Hodge)

We’re very fortunate to be living at a time when Regina King is acting and making movies, and with her debut directorial debut, One Night in Miami, she has proven to be as adept at filmmaking as she is with acting (she won an Oscar for her terrific work in If Beale Street Could Talk). She smartly lets the writing and acting do most of the work, as the camera is mostly there to observe the magnificent work going on.

One of the best things about the film is that the original playwright, Kemp Powers — who also co-wrote/directed Pixar’s Soul — adapted his own play into an excellent screenplay. Perhaps some of the scenes are a bit longer than they need to be, but I’m not sure what could have been cut in order to maintain the character dynamics and narrative structure. As a matter of fact, I wonder if anything important was cut from the play’s script, as I felt as though as I understood everyone’s perspective aside from Jim Brown’s (Aldis Hodge). Like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, another adaptation of a beloved play, some things had to be cut; but, unlike Ma Rainey, I don’t believe that too much was cut. 

The entire cast is superb, especially the compelling foursome at the center, who are all very convincing as their real-life counterparts: Hodge as football legend Brown (the only one who’s still alive); British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X; Hamilton alum Leslie Odom, Jr. as soulful singer Sam Cooke; and Eli Goree as Cassius Clay pre-Muhammed Ali. Hodge is given the least to do, which isn’t his fault of course, but he is almost always upstaged by the others. Ben-Adir transforms himself fully into the character of Malcolm X, and isn’t necessarily as showy as Goree and Odom, but I found his performance to be the most magnetic and well-acted. Odom is perfectly charming as Cooke, and his singing is of course on point. Goree — who’s relatively unknown — is actually a scene stealer here, as he totally nails the physicality of the role and zeroes in on Clay’s vanity in a rather hilarious manner.  

If you haven’t read the play — I hadn’t — then you’ll probably be surprised at the number of topics and conversations that are covered through the nearly two-hour film. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, sometimes profound, and even a bit over-the-top (but believably so). The story is based on the actual meeting that took place in 1964, although the specifics of the men’s discussions are unknown. It’s fascinating to see them all try to determine their places as young, black, famous, gifted individuals at a time when the Civil Rights movement was in full swing. They struggle with identity in a number of different ways, and by the end of the night they still don’t really know where they fit in. Regardless, there’s still hope, even though you know that both Malcolm and Cooke will be dead within a year. 

As much as I enjoyed the film, I can’t quite give it a perfect score. It does feel a bit stage-y at times, but not to the extent that Ma Rainey does. I hope One Night in Miami receives multiple Oscar nominations, include for Best Picture, Director (amazing to have another woman of color in the mix), Adapted Screenplay, and for acting. Odom seems like the most likely nominee — and is a front-runner in the Supporting Actor category, according to some experts — but, again, Ben-Adir would be my pick. I haven’t seen the Denzel Washington-starrer Malcolm X, but from what I’ve heard, Ben-Adir’s performance stands on its own.