REVIEW: How entertaining would four men be sitting in a Miami hotel room, arguing and debating on a variety of issues that affect their lives? It turns out a lot, especially if the four men in question are Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). Based on Kemp Powers’ script which is itself adapted from her own one-act play of the same name, ‘One Night in Miami’ establishes the genius of rookie Regina King as a director from the get-go. The movie opens with an action-packed scene in the boxing ring, featuring the underdog Cassius Clay, who later became boxing legend Muhammad Ali. It’s February 25, 1964, and Clay is fresh from the victory of becoming the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. . That same night, Clay is locked in a hotel room with political activist Malcolm X, NFL star Jim Brown, and singer and musician Sam Cooke. But before all the verbal action takes place between the four men inside the room, we are shown their individual experiences that shape the narrative. These back-to-back scenes not only introduce us to the characters, but they also break up the visual monotony of the script that is locked in a hotel room, for the most part.
When the men start talking to each other, King’s carefully curated fictional account cleverly underscores their inner conflicts. They are some of the most famous men of their time in the populist fields of sports, music, and social activism, and yet their existential struggle is real. The two key ingredients driving this fictitious exchange are the unconstrained but subdued performances and the witty, punchy dialogue, filled with quotable quotes.
Gathered at the Hampton House Motel, a paradise for black tourists in Miami, the men are there to celebrate Clay’s victory over boxing legend Liston, but instead of a party with alcohol and girls, they are treated to vanilla ice cream. and a heated debate. However, the result is anything but vanilla. As Clay puts it, all four are “young, black, fair, unapologetic, and famous.” There is so much fun in their jokes and squabbles, while being emotionally aware of their stark reality and the fact that at least two of these characters will soon meet their untimely end.
Performance wise, the four actors come together as a single unit, each portraying their complex characters with ease. Despite the differences in their characters and between them, as actors, they come out as one team. Decades later, their conversations about fitting in and including are still relevant and that’s a sad reality (read #BlackLivesMatter).
Regina King’s directorial debut may be visually limited and is certainly not intended for mass entertainment, but the dialogue it initiates is limitless. With her keen storytelling skills, Regina brings us an experienced exchange between important men (of color), who led the narrative of America’s civil and cultural rights movement.