One Night in Miami… (4 stars)

One Night in Miami…

LFF 2020: A quartet of Black icons assemble in the classy directorial debut of actress Regina King

As an actress, Regina King could not be more admired; a recent Oscar and four-time Emmy winner, she can do no wrong. So, her first film as director really piques the interest (she's been honing her helming skills across a variety of TV shows, including Scandal, Insecure and, one of her finest acting hours, Southland). An adaptation of Kemp Powers' award-winning 2013 play, with a screenplay by the man himself, One Night in Miami… imagines a meeting between leading Black figures of the 1960s: Malcolm X, Cassius Clay (shortly before he became Muhammad Ali), Jim Brown and Sam Cooke.

Britain's Kingsley Ben-Adir (Peaky Blinders, The OA) shows his star potential in the pivotal role of Malcolm X, who has hijacked the celebrations of Clay (Eli Goree), following his world title win on 25th February 1964, bringing the jubilant young boxer together in his hotel room with NFL star Brown (Aldis Hodge) and singing legend Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr). Intros contextualise their success; these men might ostensibly be at the top of their game, but they can't rise high enough to win the respect of many white folks.

The cast are superb. Inhabiting familiar figures can commonly turn to caricature, yet Goree brings endearing toddler-esque energy to Clay, Odom nails Cooke's bruised pride and incredible musical and business prowess, and Hodge has Brown as both a level head and a furiously ambitious player. Ben-Adir is the stand-out with his unusually sensitive take on the controversial civil rights activist, who is filled with foreboding regarding what he righty assumes will be his imminent death, and is trying to extract himself from the Nation of Islam.

If there are charming, funny, moving and galling moments, it's the fiery debate that really grabs you: Jim believes the key to Black empowerment is 'economic freedom'; Sam suggests that he might not yet be making political music in the manner of Bob Dylan but, 'If I win 'em over playing our music, I'm knocking down doors for our people'; Malcolm doesn't think that's enough, telling him, 'Brother, you could move mountains without lifting a finger.'

King brings these differing perspectives together in a way that's consistently classy and compelling. Putting iconic Black talent of diverse stripes in a room and having them debate their responsibility to their community is thrilling. It's also a film that helps you see such legends as fallible men at a significant societal disadvantage, while it's performed with the kind of conviction which shows that lives are on the line.

Screening on Sun 11 and Mon 12 Oct as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2020. General release TBC.

One Night in Miami

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 50min
  • Directed by: Regina King
  • Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr.

Fictional account of a night on which Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown meet.

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