One of my biggest regrets of London Film Festival was that I accidentally missed the showing of Regina King’s directorial debut, One Night in Miami. Quickly becoming one of the most exciting films tonlook out for this awards season, the film follows the integral meeting that took place between boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), football player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and musician Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) on the night that Clay became World Champion and leads up to the announcement that he is converting to Islam. Based on the play of the same name written by Kemp Powers, who also wrote the screenplay, One Night in Miami is fully engaging and beautifully shot. In an awards season that is dominated by films directed by women, King stands out as she brings a unique perspective to a film that is heavily dominated by men.
As the film is based on a play, it could have easily slipped into the trap of coming across too “stagey” and over the top. However, Powers did a brilliant job of adapting his script in a way where the location changes and long conversations feel completely natural and brings an authentic pace to the film that doesn’t feel jarring at all. Mixed with King’s ability to weave in the different backstories flawlessly, One Night in Miami tells its story effectively without patronising or spoon feeding the audience. We soon find as the film goes on just how complex each individual’s life is and how their own struggles reflect that of other African-Americans during that time as well as their power and influence to inspire change.
In the lead as activist Malcolm X, Kingsley Ben-Adir is absolutely astonishing. By far one of the most exciting breakouts of this awards season, Ben-Adir perfectly captures Malcolm’s strength and resilience that is often associated with Malcolm whilst also adding in the fearful side as we see Malcolm as a family man who is scared for his own wellbeing and mortality as he grows more paranoid of the FBI and the Nation of Islam. Naturally, Malcolm is the instigator of many conversations and arguments that occur in the film simply because he wants his friends to use their platforms to speak up about racial equality. Of course, this isn’t the first time Malcolm X has been brought to the big screen with the most notable performance coming from Denzel Washington in Spike Lee’s 1992 film, Malcolm X but Ben-Adir holds his own and shows that he is definitely a star on the rise.
In support we have Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom Jr. as Cassius Clay, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke. Each man a pioneer in their respective field through the worlds of sport and art, Malcolm invites his friends round to discuss the opportunities they have to promote racial equality thanks to the public platform they have. Every actor in this film pulls more than their weight and deliver performances that stay with you long after the film is over but the highlight in support has to be from Leslie Odom Jr. who shines as the conflicted musician Sam Cooke. Cooke is a successful musician who makes his own money and chooses to make music that caters to both black and white people because it makes him rich and allows him to be his own boss. After hearing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”, he is inspired to write his own song about racial injustice and the result is “A Change is Gonna Come”. To say that Odom Jr. is the perfect choice for the role is an understatement. He captures Cooke’s personality brilliantly and his voice is spot on, bringing out the passion and love Cooke has for music. It should also be noted by Odom Jr’s performance of the original song “Speak Now” which plays during the ending credits is just as beautiful as the film and I hope it receives an Academy Award come Oscars Night.
Overall, One Night in Miami is a standout among othet directorial debuts by actors because of its simplicity. King has created a film that physically is fairly still but there are a lot of moving pictures as loyalty is questioned and tensions rise. It’ll be excited where her directorial career will take her to next but right now, this film is definitely an important conversation piece that easily holds its own against the heavy hitters that boast extortionate budgets. King will no doubt be amongst the Best Director nominees when it comes to the Academy Awards and deservedly so.
What did you think of One Night in Miami? Let me know in the comments below!
One Night in Miami is available to stream on Amazon Prime now!